Medium has Strange Numbers

Stella, you’re numbers (while super impressive — way to go!) are, unfortunately, not surprising to me. For a long time I’ve thought something fishy about Medium’s numbers. It all started when I launched the Writing Cooperative’s Spring Writing Challenge.

At the time, The Coop had just over 17,000 followers. When I published the story (also as a letter in the publication) I was shocked at how little traction it received. in fact, the story/letter was published four months ago on May 1 and to date has these stats:

So where are those other 16,269+ followers? Granted, not all of the followers would see (or click on) the story. I get that. But fewer than 4% of the follower count opened the story. Fewer than 2% read it… Odd right?

Then my following count begin to grow and I again grew suspicious.

I went through a period of about 6 weeks where my following count grew by 10–15 new people a day. These were all largely brand new Medium accounts that were not tied to a Twitter or Facebook account. Most had no activity on Medium (other than following people). A few had left a handful of recommendations around. Almost as quickly — and out of nowhere — this explosive follower growth began, it disappeared.

Strangely enough, as this was happening I was watching HBO’s Silicon Valley. Towards the end of season two, the Pied Piper team ends up buying “daily active users” from a click farm in India. Basically they spent some money for people to sign up for a new account, move a file so that they are “active” on the site, and then sign off and do it again with another account.

My conspiracy theory tentacles went into high alert.

Look, I’m not saying that Medium has bought users. Most likely something I published got me on one of those “recommended users” lists when people sign up for the site and my time in the sun faded as I stoped writing as much — dang job and no free time. What I am saying is that Medium has strange numbers which led me to be suspicious in the first place.

After this period of strange numbers and rapid growth I stopped paying attention to the numbers at all — they simply don’t mean anything.

I have over 1,000 followers and published a story that had potential to be seen by 17,000 and it was seen by 700. You have a following of over 20,000 and published a story that was seen by 500. There is no rhyme or reason. So I write — when I can — and publish and get delighted when the bell turns green, but other than that I don’t pay much attention to the numbers.

Freelance writer and consultant helping nonprofits, businesses, and individuals tell their stories. Co-Founder of The Writing Cooperative. 👉

Love podcasts or audiobooks? Learn on the go with our new app.