Why I’m quitting Medium and Facebook, and what I’m doing instead

Or: how I learned to stop worrying and love the paywall

I’ve alluded to it for months, but now it’s finally here: the moving announcement. I’m moving to a new platform — my own platform. With a paywall. In fact, I’ve already moved.

My stuff is all packed up — and by that I mean my posts here on Medium are all migrated over to my new platform, except for some Medium-specific content and my COSGRRRL posts (which will be following suit soon). I’ve left truncated versions of the posts here on Medium, as I fully intend to take advantage of the 200–400 daily visitors they receive, but they now direct readers to finish the story on my new platform.

My Facebook account has been largely dormant for months, and while some of its business functions and my client work prevent me from deleting my account entirely, my activity there is now relegated to mostly auto-posting reminders about where to find me — which is on my new network.

I’ve invited a small number of my good friends over to the new digs, and now I’m flipping on the “OPEN” sign. The only thing that’s left is to lock up the old shop, here on Medium.

It’s bittersweet — like leaving your college campus. You know you can come back and visit whenever you want, and you know you can keep in touch with all your friends, but you also know that it just won’t be the same again. That this cloistered season is through, and now the wider, scarier world awaits you.

But it’s time. Seasons must end in order for new things to grow, and it’s time for me to have my own space. But before I explain my new venture, I need to talk about why I’m breaking up with Medium and Facebook.

Leaving co-dependent relationships is hard to do

They don’t always start out as co-dependent relationships; neither Facebook or Medium were for me, in the beginning. I opened a Facebook account in 2006, when you still needed a .edu email address. It was a fun way to share photos and keep in touch with a small number of friends, and then in 2009 when I became an independent contractor, Facebook was an incredibly cheap and effective way to connect my small business clients with qualified audiences. I drove a lot of conversions and cashed a lot of consulting checks with Facebook’s help in 2009–2012.

And then: the monetization. The timer went out on Zuckerberg’s angel investments, and — being a glorified hotornot.com with no central mission to speak of — the model shifted beneath advertisers’ feet, affecting small businesses the most. The worst gut punch was, I still think, when Facebook started to make business page owners pay to reach their own earned audiences — audiences who specifically followed small businesses because they wanted to stay connected to them. That was some shit, and no matter how well I understand the business argument, I still think it’s some shit.

Then the data selling debaucles, which I’m still surprised that anyone is surprised by. Facebook made its model of selling its data clear in its earliest phases of monetization.

And anyway, ad-driven models always quash quality engagement, so it’s no surprise that Facebook has turned into a den of trolls and angry grandmas. Just look at what’s happening in the comment threads over at my home state’s traditional media conglomerate, MLive.com, and correlate that with how many times the site takes your screen over with popup ads.

Ick. The model is just full of ick.

It’s been made abundantly clear over the last few years that Facebook is neither an effective tool for reaching organic audiences (i.e. you have to pay to play), nor does it have a tenable future. The popularity of Facebook cleanses, the mass exodus of millennials and Xers, and iGen’s mockingly ambivalent attitude toward the platform collectively imply Facebook’s inevitable death. Maybe 5 years, maybe 15; it doesn’t matter. I want to be on a platform that’s in its growth cycle, not death spiral.

Medium is much more bittersweet, for me. I joined the platform in 2014, when Ev was shifting away from his ad-based model and towards their paid writer program. A colleague of mine and I used the platform to launch a local nonprofit arts publication, and it prompted me to do something I hadn’t done in far too long: I began to free write regularly. It was a truly exciting time on the platform, and a beautiful experience to be part of a community of talented independent writers and thinkers who were committed not just to their craft, but to elevating the voices of others like us everywhere. I totally dug the mission, and to Medium’s credit: it motivated me to put the work into becoming a better writer.

I’ve chronicled much of my journey with Medium in past posts, so I won’t rehash it all here. Suffice to say that when Ev fired a big chunk of Medium’s development and support staff in 2016 and replaced them with mainstream media editors and content marketing curators, we all felt the shift: away from being a platform to serve independent writers and publications, and towards being a mainstream publication itself.

What did the last Partner Program update say — that 9.3% of writers earned over $100 last month? And that only 58.4% of writers who published a Member story got paid at all?

My followers mean bupkis, my stats on creative writing are in the double digits, and my investigative reporting is chasing pennies while celebrity political activist op-eds hog the home page. I can’t pretend to use Medium as a viable platform for my work anymore. It’s just become silly.

At the end of the day, this is simply the direction Medium chose, and it is what it is. It makes me sad to watch my friends struggle and leave here, and I can’t not grieve for the lost potential of the platform for independent voices, but that’s ok. We’ve chosen separate paths, and now it’s time for me to part ways.

Ironically — and this should be of interest to other writers here on Medium — I’ve recently noticed that 75–90% of my traffic here on Medium actually comes in from Google. My background in SEO copywriting can claim a bit of credit for that, but the truth is it wasn’t strategic — I was just writing descriptive titles to the posts I wanted to write. And it turns out people are searching for those topics. The bottom line is that I don’t need Medium to get traffic from Google. Any site with decent SEO will do for that. And if the lion’s share of my traffic on Medium comes from Google, then…what do I really need Medium for, anyway?

Friends and community, has historically been my inner rebuttal to that question. My friends are here; my community and vital sources of input are here, and I know by now that input is critical to my creative process.

That — the community here — is really what’s prompted me to become a better writer. My friends here. Which is hard for me to admit, with my aggressively introverted proclivities. But it’s true: I need friends. I can’t operate in a bubble.

But I think I’ve found a fix for that part.

Rise of the micronetworks

So recently a tech startup vet named Gina Bianchini, former co-founder of early days major Facebook competitor Ning, launched a new social platform called Mighty Networks. It’s essentially a middle finger to Facebook, as it offers users the same (but in some ways better) tools to connect, but on independent, private networks. It’s got some blogging features that are really similar to Medium, too, with a open streamlined structure for editors / moderators to collaborate and manage content.

You can blog, post video and audio, create groups and topics, run polls, host live events, and sell coursework. And you can do it on your own private URL.

In other words: you can build your own Facebook/Medium-like site, and do whatever you want with it. Including — and here’s the real exciting part — put up a paywall.

Medium’s paywall going up was exciting because it offered writers the opportunity to control the monetization of their work — but that operated under the assumption that profits would be enough to pay writers decently, and would be distributed fairly. But it isn’t working out that way, as we writers have little to no control over our visibility or communication with followers.

But a simple paywall on an independent platform that I can control — that could work. It’s already working for sites like CoCommercial and Hairbrained, which are using Mighty Networks’ white labeled platforms (which get their own mobile apps).

It’s daunting, of course, because it begs the question: what if you can’t get anyone to join your network? Surely people won’t want to have a bunch of paid subscriptions to different small networks — will they?

I dunno. We’ll see.

It’s a real hurtle, starting from scratch. It requires a lot of faith and hope. And/or just plain dogged determination.

I don’t always have ample supply of the former, but I’ve got plenty of the latter. So I’m just going to fucking do it. And I don’t think I’ll be alone.

As I look at the trends of vastly declining tech use among iGens and young millennials and their mass migration off Facebook (you heard me right: a lot of iGens are buying flip phones and refuse to create Google accounts), I predict that massive, ad-driven networks like Facebook will fall over the next 5–10 years, and they will be replaced by a flood of small, independently-run networks. I like to call them micronetworks. (Dibs on that term, if people start using it.) Just look at how the TV industry has dissolved into a bunch of independent streaming platforms. It’s the rebirth of the subscription model, and I think it’s about to hit the social media industry — hard.

Yes, it’s a hunch, and a gamble. But it’s better than sitting around here bitching.

So what is the creativeonion network, and what are you going to do with it, Marjorie?

Named after the digital alias I created for my personal brand in 2008, the network is exactly what it sounds like: a place where I post my work, promote my friends’ work, and have open, civil dialogue which creatively explores often polarizing issues.

People either love or hate onions. I actually hate raw onions, but I love caramelizing them to cook with. A little heat and lubrication totally change the chemistry — just as they do with human interaction.

Plus, the layers. Just like Shrek. I am not a cake, people.

I’m not interested in red v blue, black v white conversations which reduce people and ideas to binary categories. I’m interested in building bridges, and in finding solutions by seeking the third option.

So I’m banking on the fact that there are others like me, who have less of a sweet tooth, and are ready for more substance — grumpy, layered, complicated substance. I know they exist, because I’ve befriended so many of them here, and in real life.

I’m asking my subscribers to pay $6/mo, which I think is reasonable. I figure 1,000 subscribers is my magic number — the number at which I could make the platform my dedicated source of income, which would allow me to dedicate the time necessary to some serious reporting on issues mainstream pubs won’t cover (like child support, and mycelial technologies). In the meantime, I’m hoping I can get subscribers to pitch in to support the more time intensive stories they want me to work on.

And what will my subscribers get, in return for their hard earned monthly latte money?

All my original, poetry, essays, ad hoc journalism, podcasts, and daily conversation, as well as some tarot readings and access to upcoming personal branding coursework — in addition the same from my close friends from Medium and real life. And, of course, dialogue and discussion with fellow travelers, in a community dedicated to reasonable, intellectually honest, civil dialogue.

So that’s the grand scheme.

Link to my network below. If you’d like to join me as a contributor on the network, you know how to reach me.

If your name is listed below, it’s because I’d like to invite you to become a contributor/moderator (which also means I’d like to offer you a free account), but I didn’t have your email. Mostly what I really want is an excuse to hang out with you. So email me if you do — or just join the network and DM me you want to be a moderator, and I’ll change your account status for you.

If you think I missed putting your or someone else’s name on this list, please let me know — and please don’t take offense. I have busy mom brain and can’t remember obvious things sometimes.

Jere Krischel, J Apple Muncy, Chris Cohlmeyer, Jessica Wildfire, Adam, Diabetic Cyborg, Mike Meyer, Jack Preston King, Joe Váradi, Brian Brewington, SouthpawPoet

poet, educator, hillbilly gnostic druid. indie publisher and creator of COSGRRRL magazine, teaching business @KCADofFSU.

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