Everything You Need to Know (and Then Forget) About Medium’s New “Boost”

8 min read

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Everything to know about Medium Boost
There’s a thing happening over at Medium that’s “new.” Well, more like an old concept that’s been newly gift-wrapped with ribbons and all. But the wrapping is too complicated, making it hard to unpack. Heck, even Medium’s CEO Tony Stubblebine seems to think this whole thing is “complicated.”

Yeah…

But we still love Medium regardless of its many shenanigans and temper tantrums, right?

And the part about “forgetting?” Yeah, I’ll clarify that too… all in good time.

So, let’s just get to it, shall we?

In this post:

The Old Way of Medium Story Distribution

If you’re wondering why I’m talking about the old way of things, please, bear with me here because understanding this “old” way will help.

Way back in the day, Medium had a thing called “curation.” That is the original, “old” concept. Basically, Medium employed human readers/editors whom we’ll call Medium’s “internal curation team.” This team went over all the published stories, and based on some internal guidelines, they pushed out the “best” ones to a larger group of readers. These were the “curated” stories that typically got more eyeballs, reads, and eventually, higher income.

Then Medium renamed this and made it “distribution.” For all intents and purposes, nothing was different for the typical user except for the terminology. When you went to the stats page of a story, it showed the following message—”Chosen for Further Distribution.” In addition, a graph showed exactly when (the day of) the story was distributed via a “Distributed” marker. See the images below:

Old way to show a story was distributed by Medium editors.
The old way to show a story was distributed by Medium editors.
The old way Medium showed when a story was distributed in the graph.
The old way Medium showed when a story was distributed in the graph.

These are the old way of things.

Then, sometime around September 2022, Medium got away with the human-selected distribution, fired a bunch of people from their editorial team, and decided to rely solely on the algorithmic distribution. The only form of handpicked stories was the featured stories section you see now on Medium’s homepage (for logged-in users.) They’re nested under “Staff Picks” on the right-most column, at the top.

Something else happened at this time—many writers started seeing a dramatic drop in their views and reads. Turns out, maybe getting rid of the curation/distribution system wasn’t such a hot idea, after all.

"Staff picks" (handpicked) Medium stories.
“Staff picks” (handpicked) Medium stories.

The Concept Behind The New Medium “Boost”

So now, approximately five months after that fiasco, Medium introduces the “Boost.”

And once again, users, myself included, are confused because it feels like the old curation—and later renamed distribution—is back. But this time, however, they’ve added a new-ish twist to things, which I’ll talk about in a minute.

So, in this section, I’ll talk about what this new Boost is, how it is supposed to work, and what’s different from the previous versions (curation and distribution).

What is Medium “Boost”

Here’s a simple definition of Medium’s new “Boost” with a capital B.

Medium takes story recommendations from a chosen group of users, called the “community curators,” then an internal curation team—editors employed by Medium—vets these recommended stories, and finally, a select few get pushed out to a larger audience, resulting in more views, more reads, and potentially, higher income. This process is called the “Boost.”

In the article where Tony Stubblebine first announced the new “boost,” he says this:

Starting today, some authors may see a notification on their story stats page and in their inbox that says their story has been Boosted.

An important reason authors choose Medium is to give their stories a chance to be seen by more readers. Authors shouldn’t be required to build their own audience or mailing list to share their ideas and knowledge. Often, the best writing comes from people who don’t want to be audience builders. With the rise of the creator economy, these doers are often left out. Our goal is to find the best individual stories, regardless of who wrote them, and give those stories a wider audience.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? At face value, the boost is here to help writers for their time and effort. It’s a way to reward good work.

Things, however, become a bit more (or maybe a lot more?) opaque the further you read the article and try to understand what is going on under the surface. Here’s the process by which a story gets Boosted.

  1. First, let’s talk about the biggest difference in the new “Boost.” Medium is currently at work with some publication editors (15 of them at the time of the original announcement, with plans to add to this number,) who recommend stories to Medium’s editors. Medium works directly with these folks, so nobody knows exactly how the recommendations work, except for these editors themselves. We don’t know who the editors are, or which publications they’re affiliated with. These editors are collectively known as “community curators,” as I’ve mentioned above.
  2. When a community curator recommends a story, it is then vetted by Medium’s internal curation team.
  3. If a story gets the thumbs up from the internal team, it is then pushed out to a larger group of readers using the algorithm.

So, to sum it up, the main difference of the “Boost” from its predecessors “curation” or “distribution” seems to be an added step—a middleman, if you will—the community curators’ recommendations.

The confusing thing about the new Medium Boost

At a glance, this sounds amazing. It’s a dream come true for writers who hate marketing their writing. In theory.

I say “in theory” because I’m not sure this method is better than what Medium used to have (pretty much the same process, but without the community curator recommendations.).

That said, I understand the dilemma. I honestly believe that the folks who run Medium want to help the writers. But it has limitations. For example, over the past couple of years, a ton of new writers have joined the platform. Some of their writing is great, but much of this new content is just rubbish. Employing human readers to go through thousands of stories every day sounds impractical, and improbable even.

So, to simplify the process, or so I’m assuming, Medium now wants some handpicked editors of various publications hosted on Medium (who are not directly employed by Medium, but understand the Medium ecosystem, and possess a keen eye for good stories) to recommend the stories that Medium’s internal curation team should look at.

The pro:

It’s a lighter burden for Medium’s internal curation team. They don’t have to dig through thousands of stories per day to find a select few gems. Instead, they’ll vet stories that are first recommended by community curators.

The con:

Community curators don’t read all the stories that are published. So what can writers do to make sure their amazing stories catch the attention of these anonymous curators? Also, if these folks already run their respective publications, wouldn’t they be biased toward stories that are published in their pubs? And what happens to the writers whose work doesn’t get seen by the community curators?

In fact, one reader seems to have thought of the exact issue and asked about it in the Boost announcement article. In his response, Tony Stubblebine sums up the whole thing as “complicated.”

"It's complicated"—Tony Stubblebine's response to potential shortcomings of the Boost.
“It’s complicated”—Tony Stubblebine’s response to potential shortcomings of the Boost.

So, looking at all this, what are we, the Medium writers, to do??? Well, nobody really knows, but I do have some tips that I’ll share shortly.

My “Boost’ Observations So Far

Back in the day, a big majority of my stories used to get curated/distributed before Medium sunset them in late September 2022. Now it’s back under a new name but I have yet to see even a single story of mine get Boosted. If anything, my views have only gone down over the last few months. (FYI, you can read my Medium monthly reports here.)

However, it’s still too early for me to draw any definitive conclusions about the Boost, so I won’t opine about it. It’s best to give it some time before I analyze anything.

That said, I’ll share my observations so far.

Over the years, I have stopped reading Medium meta stories because most of them are either bad or incorrect, often both. And so, there’s a good chance that I have missed stories about the Boost.

I do, however, follow Zulie Rane, and she shared her Boost experience in this story. Give it a read, but I’ll share a few things I gleaned from her story and a few others.

  • Nobody knows what gets boosted: Like, seriously, it’s a real toss-up. We have a Medium distribution guidelines page, but no way to connect the dots.
  • Are all Boosted stories always recommended by a community curator? Again, I have no idea. I haven’t seen any clarification on this so far. Maybe I’m missing something crucial here, or maybe nobody truly knows. Maybe the internal curation team still reads and picks some stories at their discretion, even without the recommendation of community curators. Who even knows?!
  • Perhaps “Staff Picks” are a subset of the Boosted stories. I mean, these Staff Picks are still on Medium’s homepage, and we know for sure that there are more Boosted stories than what we see in the Staff Picks list. So, it’s possible, that the Staff Picks are a special bunch of Medium Boosted stories that get featured on the homepage (resulting in more views and reads, likely.) Since we don’t know which stories are Boosted, I recommend reading the Staff Picks list to get a feel for what Medium’s internal curation team loves.
  • Maybe personal stories are making a comeback. Most things we learn about how Medium works are just hearsay. We share what we know from our individual experiences. In other words, we have no real data or a large enough sample to prove anything. That said, I’ve heard (there it is again—hearsay) from many writers that their personal essays weren’t doing so hot. But perhaps that has changed? Two of the Boosted stories Zulie shared in her article (linked above) are personal essays from the same author. Not only did they get Boosted, but one of them even earned almost $500 in a fairly short about of time. So that’s something.

So, How Do You Get Boosted on Medium?

Like I was saying earlier, nobody really knows how to get Boosted or which stories, particularly, have a chance at a Boost.

Remember the title of this post: “Everything you need to know (and then forget) about Medium boost.” I said to forget because of this—we know nothing concrete. So why bother remembering anything? I mean, what’s even there to remember?

Since nobody knows how Boost works, just do what you do best. Do not chase a “Boost.” Instead, keep doing the things we know for sure that work. Namely:

  1. Write stories that are beneficial, useful, and/or entertaining.
  2. Write often. Quantity is important on Medium.
  3. Grow your audience (by doing #1 and #2.) An audience that loves your writing will show up for you, Boost or not.
  4. Write for good publications.
  5. Do not expect results overnight. That stuff doesn’t happen on Medium (or anywhere, really.)

And that’s it.

Not the most informative post I’ve written, but how can I when there’s so little information out there? I’ll update this post periodically as I learn more about Boost. Until then, keep on showing up and doing the work!

Good luck!


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