In the past year, I’ve joined four content and publishing platforms—Quora, Quibb, Medium, and Branch. The first two have stuck. The other two haven’t (yet).
While each service is taking a different approach (Quibb, for example, is geared towards professional news), the shared emphasis on high quality content makes for an interesting comparison. A few of the differences I’ve observed so far and thoughts as to how they affect participation across the four platforms:
How easy is it for new users to get their feet wet?
Setting aside long-term visions for a moment, here’s the current atomic unit on each of the services:
- Quora: question
- Quibb: link
- Medium: post
- Branch: branch (topic of conversation)
The threshold for active contribution is much lower on Quora and Quibb than on Medium or Branch. Most of us can probably remember the last time a question popped into our heads that wasn’t easily answered by a quick search, or the last time we came across a thought-provoking news article. Asking a question and sharing a link are relatively straightforward and low risk actions.
Conversely, the activation energy required to write a post on Medium is high. Collections serve as thematic inspiration, but the site still caters to those of us who are writing-inclined to begin with. Their notes feature is a step in the right direction in terms of lowering the threshold for active participation.
Branch is an interesting middle case. Theoretically, starting a branch is not much different from sharing a link on Quibb or asking a question on Quora. But the framing of branches as conversations attaches more of a social risk. While it’s acceptable, though not ideal, for a question to languish on Quora unanswered or for a link shared on Quibb to get no comments, no one wants to talk to themselves.
Inviting participation vs. reserving seats at the table
I’m a big fan of invitations to participate like Quora’s “Ask to answer” and Quibb’s “Ask to comment.” Branch has a similar feature where you can add people to a conversation. An effective way to convert passive readers into active contributors is incentivizing them with the knowledge that someone wants to hear what they have to say.
Contrast this with the “Ask to join” aspects of Medium and Branch, where certain collections and conversations are open only to invited members. While I understand the motivation for these gating features in the beginning stages of a product, the trade-off is that you alter the dynamic of the community in subtle ways. I think it’s preferable to either screen members at the door (like Quibb) or use a combination of technology and user input to bubble up the good stuff (like Quora). Open membership plus selective contribution can feel arbitrary, especially for products that are supposed to put more emphasis on content rather than authorship.
Look and feel
Of the four, Medium comes across as the most polished. Nonetheless, scrolling through the homepage, I’m struck by a feeling of homogeneity. The overall impression is of Medium-ness, the product, as opposed to the personalities and voices of individual contributors. Branch, Quibb, and Quora have been more successful at taking a backseat to their communities.
Laura Copeland’s insightful answer to the Quora question “What is the best way to get to know someone in a short amount of time?” has applications to the design of publishing platforms as well. There’s a tricky balance between setting the right norms and expectations for your product while still letting members bring their own quirks to the table.