Medium Should Lift the Curtain on Its Algorithm

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Screenshot of Statistical Inconsistency

I really think Medium should be a little more transparent on how its algorithm works. How does it decide there has been a view? How does it decide there has been a read? How often does it aggregate statistics? I could go on and on about what we would all like to know as writers here.

I came to understand early that what I wrote was not going to get much traffic. However, why not come here anyway to produce what I feel I MUST produce and help support other writers. These are my reasons for showing up on the platform. For the most part I wrote and did not put things behind the paywall, but I still monitored my statistics.

One wants to know if one’s ideas are getting any traction. I spent way too much time looking at my statistics to see if I was getting traction. Eventually I became convinced I was getting enough traffic to justify putting stuff behind the pay wall. My rough calculations made me feel I could at least recoup the $5 a month I was putting into it.

About the time I was doing these calculations, my traffic fell WAY off. I mean I was in single digits and for weeks finished under 100 daily views. I could not understand why, since I was writing a lot. By happenstance I noticed something I had written got applause, but had no Views according to the statistics algorithm. I reported the scenario to Medium. They thanked me and made statements which made me think I had legitimately alerted them to a potential bug.

However, the statistics from the View “drought” were never updated. I was never given an adequate explanation for why there was such a huge drop-off and why was it not retroactively addressed. Coincidentally, this seemed to coincide with a change in Medium’s algorithm. I began to become suspicious.

These black box algorithms used by the different platforms, like YouTube, Facebook, Medium et al can be frustrating. It is difficult to know what is being collected, what is being noted and what is being paid for. In fact, I have learned that on all of these platforms I must have at least one alter ego, preferably more than one to get some of this information.

An alias on one of these platforms allows you to know what your audience sees. It was through this kind of “hacking” that I learned that so much of what I posted on Facebook really did not end up in the news feed of my “fans”. If I wanted to consistently show up in the news feed, I needed to post a lot every day. In that way, some of it leaked into the news feeds.

It is through just such an alias on Medium that I have learned there is another algorithm switch afoot possibly. Or perhaps this is just another bug in their aggregation of stats. Or perhaps there are more nefarious reasons for the View “drought” I am currently experiencing.

With literally hundreds of essays on this platform now, it is difficult for me to get less than 100 views in a day. I just checked though and I have been stuck at 20 for some time today. I know through testing in the past that views and reads are fairly quickly totaled up. I also know that applause is the quickest to get recorded.

So here I am today, stealthily reviewing my content as a “fan”. I should be generating Views and Reads, but I am not. I eventually decided to clap for my latest essay just to see what would happen. I actually received NO NOTIFICATION of applause, but I did see the fan count go up by one. I took a screenshot of the situation to prove it existed.

What should I really do about this? Should I really report it to Medium? Last time I did, I felt like I got gas-lighted. My statistics stayed suppressed for at least another week back then. There was never any explanation about why either. I decided the best thing to do was write about it on the platform.

Surely, some of my followers will read this and have some other questions to ask of Medium. Perhaps they have more gravitas than I or perhaps they are economically dependent upon the platform and will be a bit more insistent in their questioning. I like Medium, but the opaque nature of their algorithm and statistical collection is frustrating.

It may seem a bit compulsive to be checking one’s statistics, but there can be good reasons to want good real-time statistics. If you push you writing elsewhere by carpet-bombing forums on some germane issue, well you want to know which “communities” you gain the most interest. Medium statistics can be useful in marketing yourself elsewhere and realtime statistics can help you be more efficient. Time is so so valuable I would at least like Medium to announce outages on the statistical backend. That way we can all know whether our efforts are truly futile or simply being “eaten by an outage”.

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