Can Medium’s clickbait problem be solved?
Please don’t let it become another Quora
Medium is a great platform for writers and readers worldwide and it is going places. The fact that you’re here reading this article only adds to the validity of the statement. I often spend more time here reading (or writing) than I do scrolling through the infinite feed of other social media platforms — and I’m certainly proud of that. Medium is clean, ad-free and filled with tons of quality content.
But if there’s one thing even this platform hasn’t been able to get rid of, that’s clickbait writing. Let’s be real here, clickbait is everywhere and has practically spoiled the environment for many curious readers and quality writers. Even Medium is not spared. It’s not surprising to find long articles with generic writing and no information at all, that too behind Medium’s paywall. So, after reading countless worthless articles and face-palming at the end, I have started finding a pattern of articles which are potential clickbait. Here’s the list for your sake.
- X things every Y must know about Z
Replace X with a number, Y with a work title/profile and Z with a subject/ tool/topic.
This is the most common and one of the most annoying kind. Don’t get me wrong here; in my experience, most of the times this type of article bear a generic content. If Y is designer, then you’ll find content in lines with ‘Learn how to present your work’, ‘Talk to all stakeholders’ or ‘Have sympathy for the end-user’ irrespective of Z.
Yeah, Thanks for pointing out users are important. Being a designer, I never knew that.
- One simple trick regarding X that will change your life/workflow forever
Just replace X with a tool or software and there you go. Honestly, I haven’t felt a change in my life after reading any such article. If you really want to change my life, you need to tell me something more than how to create a component in Figma.
- Bet you didn’t know these X things about Y
Well, I knew 90% of the things in your list — like everyone else who has ever heard of Y. Where do I come to collect my bet winnings?
- X ways to use Y in your project.
I remember reading an article titled something like ‘10 ways to use the dropdown in your UX project’ where after a point, they stopped talking about dropdown altogether. Point 5, 6, 7 in that article talked about alternates of dropdown — use radio button, sliders, checkboxes instead. Come on! at least stay loyal to the title. If someone has opted to read those articles, it implies that she/she/ they are interested in learning 10 ways to use the dropdown. Don’t switch lanes.
- X habits that’ll make you successful in your career.
Wake up early, plan your day, be passionate, stay honest to yourself, avoid distractions, read, work out, have empathy, learn from your failures, find time for yourself.
There you go, I saved you all the time reading such articles and finding things you already know. Do feel free to add to this list in responses.
Well, this list is no-where close to being exhaustive but the purpose of this article isn’t just to point out the menace. My main concern here is to solve the problem. As a UX designer, I took it as a challenge to find a solution for clickbait problem on Medium.
Censorship is NOT a solution here. Since we’re talking in qualitative aspect, AI wouldn’t be an ideal solution either.
Although Medium has a responsibility to ensure the quality of content, being a platform it cannot simply suppress someone’s views. Censorship is NOT a solution here. Since we’re talking in the qualitative aspect, AI wouldn’t be an ideal solution either. Also, for a policy level intervention, the bounds of acceptable and unacceptable needs to be clearly defined which is often challenging while dealing with creative fields. For me, the content of a particular article could be very generic and the same article could be informative for someone else. So, who gets to decide if something is clickbait or not? Not me, not someone else, not curators at Medium - but the community.
In my experience of working for a web platform, I’ve learnt that community often play a decisive role in shaping the product. As I said above, one person or a group of person cannot fairly label an article as informative or clickbait, but the community can do that effectively.
Medium can come up with a robust system to fight clickbait by allowing readers to label an article as clickbait or not. If more than a certain percentage of readers (say 25%) agree that the article was a clickbait indeed, it could be represented in the card on home feed warning users even before they click. Of course, some special cases will need to be accommodated — what if the very first reader of an article labels it as clickbait. Statistically, that would be 100% of readers at that point. So another condition should be added where this system is only applicable for articles having more than a particular number (say 20) of reports at least.
How’s this solution any good for Medium?
I believe the solution above could work well without too much of changes required by the platform. Also, it relieves the platform from cherry-picking articles and manually labels them, not to mention the answerability associated with that method.
Please feel free to drop your suggestions/ feedback on my solution in the responses below :)