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Medium is known for being one of the most loved blog platforms out there — or at least until it started to monetize and all the growth hacks start coming left and right. If you’ve visited Medium before, you obviously know about the obtrusive pops up and ask you to sign up, or the 100px tall stacked navigation bars.

But this isn’t about those, this is about the most-anxiety inducing feature that was released alongside the monetization push: the free articles limit warning.

This one

So here’s an attempt to fix that.

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

Paywalled articles are currently marked by a star icon. By marking them with a Membership tag, they are instantly more recognizable and far easier for people to identify the different content type at first glance.

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

Since the touch target is also larger than an icon, it’s also possible to attach a tooltip to it to display more information about the Membership.

Tooltip explanation when clicked on the new paywal indicator

A downside to this is that repeated usage of the tag will make the layout look much more busy, increasing cognitive load and prevent readers from focusing on the content that matters.

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 it’s very likely that the Membership tag will appear frequently in the layout.

I’ve also realized that the majority of people who don’t know the meaning behind the star icons are those who have not visited Medium before, and so they have probably visited the article from an external link.

So as an alternative, the indication tooltip for the Membership program 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

Also related to different referrer source, if you visit a Membership article from somewhere else 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 the platform that people can put their trust in.

I’m not sure if the current implementation can be classified as a dark pattern, but I feel cheated because I was never warned that I have a limited amount of reading allowance before I entered the website.

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

  • On the article preview card
  • On the article page

The first option doesn’t work for 4 reasons:

  1. Because card previews varies a lot in size, this text might be inelligible in small sizes.
  2. Having text on an image thumbnail is generally frowned upon because it’s not very accessible.
  3. Not all links are accompanied with a card preview.
  4. Not every article has a preview image.

The second option seems to be more plausible.


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.