From Matthew Butterick, in an article titled, "The billionaire’s typewriter"
But unlike the Times, Medium pays for only a small fraction of its stories. The rest are submitted—for free—by writers like you. After a long time being elusive about its business model, Medium revealed that it plans to make money by—surprise!—selling advertising. This means displaying ads, but also collecting and selling data about readers and writers. So Medium will extract revenue from every story, whether it paid for that story or not. (By the way, will that revenue be shared with writers? Um, no.)
And coming full circle—what’s the indispensable tool for creating this illusion of an editorial ecosystem? The homogeneous design. The butterfly ballot of 2000 (depicted in why typography matters) proved that errors of typography can have historic consequences. Medium proves that typography can be used as a tool of economic leverage and control.
In truth, Medium’s main product is not a publishing platform, but the promotion of a publishing platform. This promotion brings readers and writers onto the site. This, in turn, generates the usage data that’s valuable to advertisers. Boiled down, Medium is simply marketing in the service of more marketing. It is not a “place for ideas.” It is a place for advertisers. It is, therefore, utterly superfluous.
As a writer, the state of writing on the web in 2015 is not good. That's not to say the tools for writing have dried up (there are more now than ever)—it's just that now, instead of simply writing, I have all sorts of internal issues. Who owns my content? If I don't own it, who does? Does it matter? Is "homogeneous design" something I even care about?
So here's where I'm coming from. I have a job that pays the bills, so when I want to get some thoughts into the cloud, I'm not doing it for money, I'm doing it to be a citizen in the communities I care about. As Austin Kleon says in Show Your Work!, "By generously sharing their ideas and their knowledge, they often gain an audience that they can leverage when they need it—for fellowship, feedback, or patronage." For that goal, Medium, and social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, are perfect. Sure, everything you see on the page looks exactly the same—same typography, same basic structure—but it's an instant way for a writer to connect to, and discover, the people they care about. It's not that I'm lazy, or that I'm unknowingly trading my freedom to be on some Big Brother marketing platform (the billionaire's typewriter), I'm just in a place in my life where I'm happy to share my thoughts on a platform someone else has created because they've removed all the barriers and invited all my friends. It's a party I didn't have to plan... I just had to show up.
Medium, for example, has a CMS that anyone on the planet can use, and a design that certainly doesn't insult my sensibilities. Call it minimalist, homogeneous, whatever—as a writer, I can get in, write something, and send it off to my friends without worrying if it looks good or not.
My only issue with Medium is that its users are fairly anonymous. If I want to find a writer, I have to figure out what their Medium username is, then toss it to the back of the standard Medium URL. Too often, I'm just cycling through articles without ever knowing who the author is—it's just a mad shuffle of big ideas and original thoughts from people I might not ever know.
What Medium needs is custom domains. I want to be able to tell a friend to check out chrishall.pizza, not medium.com/@hashtaghall. I'm far too Gen X to want to be a blatant "corporate stooge," but the Millennial in me just needs a little recognition to be appeased. Give me that level of individuality and I could care less if they leverage my writing to make some money. It wasn't written to be a profit center anyway.
In the piece linked above, Matthew Butterick paints a solid picture of why someone like himself shouldn't use Medium. He, like many, value things like site individuality and varied typography more than I do. And he may have a soapbox with Practical Typography that pays the bills and connects him to more people than I will probably ever know. But I don't think many people want to blog full-time (it's harder than many think), and they'd probably do anything to avoid having to make design decisions and worry about server costs. They just want to write somewhere their work will be read. And Medium lets them do that.