There’s been debate about what Medium is almost since the day Evan Williams launched the media startup in 2012, after walking away from his previous company, Twitter (where he is still on the board of directors). At first, it seemed like a platform, where anyone could publish what amounts to a blog post—but then, it also started to publish its own magazine-style collections, in some cases staffed by writers and editors employed by Medium. Which raised the question: Is Medium a platform or a publisher?
Evan Williams’ standard answer to this question is “Yes.” He has spoken in the past about how Medium is a publisher, and how it wanted to have a stable of magazines run by editors like Steven Levy, the veteran technology writer who joined the company last year. But he has also pushed the idea that Medium wants to host content written by anyone, and the company has spent a lot of time enhancing its tools for external writers.
The latest news from the company continues Medium’s habit of trying to do both things at the same time. It has announced a range of improvements to the writing platform, including new apps—which will allow authors to edit their text on the site from a mobile device for the first time, among other things—and new writing tools or enhancements to existing ones. Taking a page from Williams’ previous venture, for example, Medium authors can now use public @ mentions to refer to other users, in the same way Twitter does.
But one of the most interesting and potentially important new features came on the platform side of the equation: Namely, a public API—or application programming interface, which allows external services and publishers to integrate directly with the platform—and a series of partnerships with existing publications and media entities, including Mic, Fusion, The Awl, MSNBC and Travel + Leisure magazine (which, like Fortune, is owned by Time Inc).
Both of these efforts are aimed at the same goal, which is getting more content into Medium, and presumably increasing the user base and engagement as well. Using the API, writers and media outlets will be able to tie their content-management systems directly into Medium’s back end, and publish their content simultaneously to the platform. Medium has also set up a channel on the service If This Then That, which allows users to send a variety of content to the site automatically, such as images or text from other services.
The downside of trying to be both a platform and a publisher at the same time, of course, is that the two can sometimes be in conflict. Medium has shut down a number of its “collections” over the past year, and it has also seen a number of writers and editors leave, in part because of what some insiders have described as a chaotic process of deciding which publications get which projects, or who gets funding. Freelance budgets were also chopped, although sources say they have been restored in the wake of Medium’s recent $50-million funding round.
Although internal publications like Backchannel and Matter still appear to be highly valued, for now at least Medium appears to be placing its largest bets on its future as a platform. The risk there is that others are also focused on the same kind of goal, including LinkedIn and an 800-pound gorilla known as Facebook.