What Sorcery Is Going on with Medium’s Trending Section?

Photo by Dmitry Vechorko on Unsplash

Am I the only one who never finds the articles interesting?

The ‘Trending’ section is the peak achievement for any Medium author. It means that your article is top of the pyramid (or at least one of the top 6) out of the 47,000 new ones written that day. That is a mean achievement for any writer, and I commend you if you’ve been there.

But I have one big issue with this section, which isn’t to take away from your achievement of having made it there — I cannot, for the life of me, figure out what the hell is going on with it!

Over the past few days, I have been consciously tracking the Trending section, to see if I could make heads or tails out of it. Let me walk you through the journey:

The Trending Stories

I have taken screenshots of the Trending Section for a few days (forgive the skipping of a couple of days, the vaccine had me resting, albeit involuntarily). I am only reproducing three out of the ten days because it will otherwise become a wall of pictures.

All screenshots by Author

Which topics usually trend

Do you get a feeling that something is not quite right, looking at these articles — particularly the absence of many top writers? On a preliminary hypothesis, I could see that mostly the following categories made it to the list:

  • Technical articles related to software development
  • Articles related to blockchain
  • PR announcements or articles referencing topical issues or people
  • Others, the category that I consider the actual trending articles

I decided to crunch the numbers (although data on 60 articles can barely be even considered chewing the data, but crunch has a pleasant sound to it). This is how the data stacked up:

Image by author

Software development — articles related to various technologies, and even essays on the lives of software developers made it to trending.

The next best topic to trend on Medium, was topical. This meant everything from Dodger players to Apple numbers, and of course, the star of the year, COVID.

Another consistent performer was blockchain. Given the recent increase in interest over this topic (ahem Elon Musk ahem), this was not surprising. However, it will be interesting to see whether the interest continues. Interestingly, Tim Denning has recently started writing on this topic as well; has he realised something we are missing?

And finally, the only category that most of us would be interested in, the miscellaneous personal essays and interesting self-help articles — those came in at a measly 13%. The variety was astonishing honestly. There were the heavy hitter top writers like Hunter Walk and umair haque, who were self-published or published in their own publications. Then, there were the top-gun publications — LEVEL, Personal Growth, Elemental, Human Parts. And then, there was the article on California condors, which honestly was too miscellaneous to even categorize into my miscellaneous category.

Are the trending stories published in big publications?

Image by author

To no one’s surprise, 3/4th of the trending stories were those that had been published in publications — big and small and single-writer. Only 1/4th of them had been self-published.

But you know what? That is a bigger surprise to me. I would have expected that number to be closer to 10% or even lower, not a whopping 25% (going by the crickets I hear when I self-publish). And most people who have self-published are clearly not ones with huge followings themselves — it is the algo gods who have made them trend, not their followers.

Can I retire once I hit the Trending section?

Absolutely. Err. If you only needed, say, $56 to reach your retirement corpus, sure you could. Because that’s what Ash Jurbergearned from his trending articlethe day it was trending. Sure, it would’ve kept earning, but you can pretty much gauge the amounts from that number.

You can even be lucky and earn upto $100 over the lifetime of the article.

So, yes. Retirement is one step closer once you hit Trending, even if the step may be miniscule. #bepositive.

Okay, maybe it doesn’t translate to earnings, but surely it will lead to a lot of claps and engagement. Sure. Again, you could get 200 claps (like the California condor article received) and 1 response. Or 400 claps and 2 responses, like this article on Javascript published on one of the biggest publications existing, Towards Data Sceince. Now whether it was the trending section or the nearly 600K followers of the publication that led to these claps — your guess is as good as mine, and the guess is that it has come from the publication followers.

So, what exactly is the point?

I understand that the Trending section is based on Total views, and not just internal views. In fact, most articles that are trending skew very heavily towards external views, i.e. views that are primarily driven by Google. A.k.a. views that don’t earn you a penny.

But what gets me is that the Section is named — Trending on Medium. Call me stupid, but I was under the impression that the section was paying homage to the top-6 stories that were being read on the platform by its readers. And not someone who Googled ‘software development 101’, read the free article, and bounced off.

And the best part is that they do have just such a section — on the mobile app! Also, I am not too old on Medium, but I seem to remember this section on the website before its big revamp. Then why must the desktop users suffer so?

Appeal to Medium

On behalf of all writers and readers (yes, I’ve appropriated all authority in this situation), I appeal you to add a Section that will show me which articles are doing well on Medium. You know, the platform we’re at.

You could also consider scrapping the Trending section while you’re at it. The only thing it does is befuddle me whenever I open the homepage.

One last thing, could we also have the top 10? Or top 5? Top 6 just doesn’t have the same ring.

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