Time for government to stop using Medium

A publishing platform that says it's an environment open to everyone doesn't provide equal access to all.

February 17, 2022

Medium is a platform that lets anyone – individuals or organizations – freely publish articles for public consumption. There are two fundamental civic problems with government agencies using it to publish information:

  • Content is paywalled after a limited number of article views.
  • Medium’s accessibility conformance is dismal.

Public access

Once readers exceed their viewing limit on Medium, they receive this message:

This is your last free member-only story this month. Upgrade for unlimited access.

Public access to government information should never be limited by financial blockers. Medium should exempt all content created by public sector organizations from the paywall criteria so that the general public has free, unlimited access. Sure, Medium is a corporate entity and has to make a profit, but it should consider government gratis as its civic duty, especially in an age of rampant misinformation.

Accessibility

The larger issue related to governments publishing information to Medium is that its commitment to digital access is terrible. Disability advocate Sheri Byrne-Haber has just published a blistering review of Medium’s accessibility which should give all government organizations immediate pause.

Byrne-Haber writes:

“As an assistive technology user, the experience is just flat-out awful, bordering on some of the worst I have ever seen. This is an even stronger statement when you remember I’ve seen some pretty atrocious experiences in my eighteen years working in disability inclusion and accessibility.”

Note, Byrne-Haber does publish to Medium but also maintains an accessible, free version of posts on her personal website:

“Most of the money I earn from Medium (not a ton, but enough to get a 1099 at the end of the year) supports an accessible, free version of my blog at sheribyrnehaber.com. At sheribyrnehaber.com, users can browse my multi-year blog backlog without limits, use a vastly better tagging and search mechanism than the one Medium provides, and use assistive technology to their heart’s content without barriers.”

Surprisingly, a number of digital government services agencies and civic technologists host their blogs or post articles to Medium.

The federal government’s primary digital service organization – the U.S. Digital Service – has its blog on Medium. For an agency whose mission is “to deliver better government services to the American people through technology and design” and an administration that is adamant about being more inclusive, its disuse of Medium is something that should be included in its go-forward strategy.

Other government agencies do the same, including San Francisco Digital Services, Colorado Digital Service and Massachussetts Digital Service, to name just a few.

If you’re a government agency, especially one whose mission is focused on digital access and service delivery to all, it’s time to reconsider your use of Medium.

If you don’t, it’s apparent who you really intend your message for – and who you don’t.

About Luke Fretwell

Luke Fretwell is founder of GovFresh. He is the co-founder and CEO of ProudCity.

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