Alexis Lloyd from Medium

Alexis Lloyd, Vice President of Product Design at Medium

What are the biggest decisions people working in public media tech have to make? If there was a decision they could change, what would it be? 

In our fortnightly webinar series from the Public Media Stack, we explore the art (and science) of making tech decisions with some of public media’s prominent voices. We ask them five simple questions and unpack the issues that universally affect our industry – problems with workflow, the relationship between newsrooms and tech teams, reader engagement innovation, funding diversification – as well as the presence of and reliance on Big Tech and the efforts to create alternative ecosystems. 

In our final webinar of the series, we were joined by Alexis Lloyd, Vice President of Product Design at Medium.  The video of the full webinar is below, and we’ve picked some of our favourite quotes from the interview.

On the two models of media consumption – transactional and relational 

We’ve been thinking about these two different models. One is this more transactional media experience – skimming a bunch of headlines that are presented to you from lots of different sources without a lot of context. And in contrast there’s this idea of relational media experiences, where you’re watching or listening to something because you’ve developed a relationship of trust with the source. We’ve been thinking about how we provide this kind of relationship-building blogging and part of that is that someone’s blog needs to feel like a distinct space; and Medium up to this point has not been that – it hasn’t allowed for this kind of context, expression or identity. So we wanted to give creators more tools to make their space on Medium their own; give people tools for expression and creativity within the context of something that still needs to function like a unified platform. How do you maintain platform security as you give individuals more control? How do you maintain consistency around platform level tools and functionality like following someone or clapping on a story? How do you work to maintain accessibility even as you’re letting people make design changes?

On the open web vs platform

We’ve had these two eras of the web: open web which was really great for context, creativity and building relationships, and long form content. Then the last decade or so you’ve had the platform, which is really great for network-driven discovery based on relationships, communication and conversation, less good for longer form stuff, expression of identity and context and building of content. The goal for what the next chapter of the web can be is how do you create the best of both worlds and marry those kinds of affordances?

The next big tech decision at Medium

Right now we have two different systems for recommending content and knowing what to put in front of a reader: algorithmic that learns from your behavior so what you read and clap for; and the other system is based on your explicit preferences, the people and publications that you actively choose to follow. Up to now the reading experience has really relied much more heavily on the algorithmic recommendation system. We’ve been thinking a lot about how we build the right systems to generate the right experience. Are there ways where a healthy network can drive its own discovery? Are there new methods of engagement and feedback that can facilitate more interconnectedness? What might a different kind of algorithmic recommendation look like that privileges creators over headlines?

On recognizing that tech decisions shouldn’t be made in isolation

When we make tech decisions it’s really easy to evaluate the technology on its own merits, but it’s often not the tech itself that causes the success or failure of those decisions. It’s understanding the larger context and ecosystem in which that technology is situated, and understanding what’s most likely to drive the outcomes that you want.

On the need for a one-stop note taking shop

I’ve been thinking a lot about note taking, idea capture and personal information ecosystems. I’ve yet to find a system that truly works for me. I know there’s a lot of exploration around this happening and a zillion apps right now. I try to set up systems but all of them inevitably descend into a bunch of unstructured docs that live across Dropbox, Google Docs, Notion and a bunch of other to do lists that also live in different places like post-its on my laptop or if it’s a really bad day, a note scribbled on my hand. How do you make that better? You have two tech solutions – word-processing software, or Roam Research or Zettlekasten on the other hand and related apps that are emerging. But those systems all require a lot of work. I want to write things that are unstructured and disorganized and have a system that creates connections or order or at least makes some good guesses.

‘Every technology decision is a human behaviour decision’ 

It creates certain constraints, affordances, and defaults – it defines what is and isn’t possible. Yet many tech decisions are made without that awareness and so they create unintended consequences. It’s important to recognize that we’re building systems not just products. And the pieces of those systems interact in ways that might lead to those unexpected results and they incentivize different kinds of behaviour. It’s important to explicitly examine what those incentives are.