Is medium a platform (or not)?

While not exactly surfing, but rather more like paddling (but at least not drowning) as I was navigating the web via my daily morning read of feeds washing up on the shore of my laptop, a post by medium user “Sophia Sunwoo” floated up among the bubbles landing on my screen. Actually, NOT. I don’t use medium — neither medium, nor twitter. Both seem meaningless to me. The thought bubble I saw was created by wordpress user “Thao Huong” (username “draonguyen” — oops, correction, “blog title/url” #context-is-complicated 😉 ) — namely: “🏆 Episode 187: Why Your Business Has No Future On A Marketplace” (which is a short “abstract” of the article posted by the medium user, including a link to the source). The reason why I prefer using wordpress rather than medium is not so much due to wordpress’ unparalleled global popularity, but rather it’s more a matter of my preference of its “open source” business ethics. In my opinion, “wordpress” is a meaningless brand name — but what about “medium” or “twitter”?

When twitter first start well over a decade ago, I said to my friends that “this thing is going to be big!” — because at that time “twitter” was a (more or less) meaningful concept (there was — and maybe there still is — a definition of this concept in most dictionaries). But its meaning is actually quite amorphous — akin to things like “babble” or “bull” or other such descriptors… all of which (including “medium”) don’t really describe anything specific, but rather are genres for fora (or platforms) for spreading different kinds of hot air. Hot air is not very interesting — at least not in my humble opinion.

Sophia Sunwoo — if this is indeed the real and correct spelling of a real person (mind you, there are quite a few people on Earth whose birth certificates are written in languages that do not use the roman alphabet) — does something quite ironic: she (?) writes an article warning against the overuse of what she refers to as “platforms”… and posts that article on what may very well be a platform. The crux of her argument is based on the following insight:

Even if the algorithm is benefitting you now, when the time comes (and it always does), the algorithm will transition to benefit the platform’s profits first.

Even the link to the article on medium itself seems to be a profit-making scheme — you might think that leaving off the gobbledygook string at the end of the URL would nonetheless display the article, but nada! That code probably tracks some kind of information — and my hunch is: it’s crucial for selling something (and the thing it’s probably selling is you). Another reason not to use “medium”.

Yet even if medium were not spying on you, the fact is that the string is, after all, pretty much meaningless — it provides little or no context whatsoever. Why should I become a member of a “medium” community? Because I can pitch my story to some amorphous mob of users? Sorry, that just doesn’t cut it.

So I will go out on a limb, and say that medium is “distrustworthy” — much like most platforms, including the brand names Google and Facebook, it is worthy of distrust. The article may still be worth reading for you, especially if you have any question at all concerning the meaninglessness of these so-called “platforms” … which turn their users into huge masses of nondescripts, leading online lives of quiet desparation (of course most of their twitter or babble or whatever will simply scroll off the screen and become completely insignificant to the meaning of life).

Introduction to Rational Media: Content vs. Container

Over the years, I have written quite a bit about online media — and most of it seems to be quite controversial. Perhaps one of the most controversial stories I have written has been the story about what I refer to as “outdated media” technology (which I wrote on what is essentially my own “personal” blog). The definition of this more-or-less controversial term has held up quite well, and now I would like to begin delving into the other side of the coin.

I am immediately motivated by the encouragement of an aspiring educator who said she looks forward to “reading more of your thoughts related to this topic” (meaning the topic of “building connections“). Language builds connections — insofar as it is meaningful. Following Ludwig Wittgenstein’s observations, we can say that the meanings we create by using language are mostly circumscribed by those contexts in which we use particular linguistic expressions (versus other contexts, and / or other expressions, respectively): we do not say “cat” when talking about a dog; we do not say “dog” when talking about a cat.

Meaningful expressions exist at various levels. We navigate these contexts without even needing to think about it. Perhaps one of the best examples of this is Herbert Paul Grice’s seminal work on pragmatism (“Logic and conversation”, 1975) — in which he analyzed the meanings of expressions that seem to violate standard (“grammatical”) interpretations. Yet much research in linguistics oddly aims to be “context-free”, which seems to fly in the face of how humans seem to naturally think. To ignore context makes about as much sense as trying to breathe in a vacuum.

My particular focus is primarily written language, another favorite point of ignorance among many more conventional linguists. One particularly interesting aspect of most writing systems is that the technology has evolved to support very explicit contextual information. In school, we learned to write “about” stuff by putting a title above what we wrote. If the title was something like “The difference between cats and dogs” (well, that sounds quite definitive, doesn’t it? maybe it would show more humility to use a title like “Some of the differences between cats and dogs which I think are important right now”, but I expect many might instead coach students to be more straightforward, to forthrightly simply declare something like “Cats & Dogs”) … with such titles a reader reasonably expects to find some particular kinds of information — and by reasonable you might even think “rational”. Rational media, therefore, is about something meaningful… and the thing it’s about is clearly labeled in the title.

Online, these titles are the names of sites — not “page titles”. A page title is merely a piece of metadata about an HTML page. A site is the container for content — in other words: its context.