Medium

Medium is known for being one of the most loved blog platforms out there—or at least until it started to push hard for monetization. All the growth hacks started coming left and right. If you've visited Medium before, you would know about the obtrusive popups that ask you to sign up or the stacked 100px tall navigation bars.

But this blog post isn't about those intrusive growth hacks. This blog post is about the most-anxiety inducing feature released alongside the monetization push: the free articles limit warning.

Medium's current paywall implementation
This one

So here's an attempt to fix that.

1. Make the paywalled articles indicator more obvious compared to free ones

A star icon currently marks paywalled articles. By identifying them with a "Membership" tag, they are instantly more recognizable and far more straightforward for people to identify the different content type before they enter the article.

Article item in the article list with a better indication it's a paywalled article
Article item in the article list with a better indication it's a paywalled article

Medium should provide an explanation for these tooltips, as currently they look just like decorative elements. These star symbols should be clickable or tappable to open a tooltip that would explain what it means and the Membership plan.

Tooltip explanation when clicked on the new paywall indicator
Tooltip explanation when clicked on the new paywall indicator

However, repeated usage of the tag will make the layout look much busier, increasing the cognitive load and preventing readers from focusing on the content that matters.

Articles with the new larger paywall indicator in a grid
The overall design in a grid feels too busy

It's also worth noting that as I'm editing this blog post for republishing on my new website, a lot more content on Medium has been put behind the paywall. So the chance of the Membership tag appearing in the layout has increased considerably.

Another problem is that many people who don't know the meaning behind the star icons have never visited Medium before, so they have most likely seen the article from an external link or search results.

As an alternative, the Membership program's indication tooltip could be displayed on the first visit inside the article instead.

2. Remove the tripwire penalty

Twitter card of a Medium article in the Membership program
Twitter card of a Medium article in the Membership program

Also related to different referrer source, if you visit a Membership article from social networks like Twitter or Reddit, you wouldn't know whether the article is a free one or not until you actually visit the link.

Unexpected user interface elements like these feel like stepping on an explosive mine while taking a stroll in the park. No one likes surprises, especially if you want to be a platform that people can put in their trust.

I'm not sure if the current implementation can be regarded as a dark pattern. But I feel cheated because I was never warned that I have a limited reading allowance before I entered the website.

There are two ways this information can be sufficiently communicated to the reader:

  • On the article preview card
  • On the article page
Twitter card of a Medium article in the Membership program with updated indicator inside og:preview

The first option doesn't work for four reasons:

  1. Because card previews vary a lot in size, this text might be illegible in smaller sizes.
  2. Having text on an preview thumbnail is generally frowned upon because it's not very accessible.
  3. Not all links are accompanied by a card preview.
  4. Not every article has a preview preview.

The second option is more plausible.

Before
Before
After
After

First-time readers now know that the article they're reading is behind a paywall. They're given options as to whether they want to read the article and use up one membership preview, or they can upgrade to get unlimited access to all the articles.

Also, don't use Medium.