Last night I received this email from Winnie Lym in response to an essay I wrote earlier in the day, People Over Page Views.
I loved reading it, and through it I read Semil Shah’s story, it is incredible.
It reminded me of my own dilemma: “http://journal.winnielim.org/why-i-write/”, I could have spent my energy writing stuff that would elevate my social profile, but it has been a tough, consistent, conscious decision to write for people I specifically want to connect to, even if it is just a few.
Thank you for writing that post.
Winnie’s email is worth more than a 1,000 page views.
Interactions like this, make writing incredibly rewarding. Winnie invested the time to craft a thoughtful email expressing her empathy and encouragement. Her private email contains more weight than a tweet or inline comment. And in just a few sentences, we connected.
With exception to rare cases when emails are quoted in blog posts (like this one), email is a private, very personal communication medium. This expectation of privacy between two people makes them more intimate and meaningful. Public messages in the form of blog comments or on Twitter, have a different context, sometimes motivated by selfish pursuits. One might comment on a blog, complimenting the author not out of sincerity but for their own motivation for attention. A congratulatory tweet may not be an authentic expression of thanks but a lure for retweets and followers.
These personal, private messages are more than just internet Kumbaya. They carry a strong psychological motivator encouraging writers like myself, to continue writing.
Blogging is not unlike many other social products. We create content and seek social validation through likes, up-votes, page views, and other forms of acknowledgement. But not all are equal. Some have a greater influence on our behavior.
To exemplify this, let’s run through a hypothetical example. Pretend you just received a Facebook notification that someone liked one of your posts. You don’t know who it was or which posts they liked yet. Take note of your mental state. How anxious are you to check Facebook right now?
Now lets pretend the notification was not in response to a “like” but instead informed you of a new message from one of your friends. You might ponder, “Who sent the message? What does it say? Is it urgent?” How motivated are you to check Facebook now? Are you more motivated than in the previous example?
The Facebook message contains more unpredictability than the “like”. It’s this variability that motivates us to take action to calm the curiosity and anxiousness these notifications deliver.
How can we enable and encourage readers and writers to connect while building more engaging products? Medium is in a great position to do so in what I will call, “Medium Messages”.
Medium has several systems for readers to acknowledge authors’ work. Users can comment, suggest further reading, add an essay to a collection, or recommend an author’s post. But it lacks the private, one-to-one interactions available through email (yes, comments are private by default but suffer from the possibility of the aforementioned selfish motivations).
A simple “message the author” button would be valuable but the timing of when this prompt is presented is critical to its adoption and effectiveness. An opportune moment to encourage this behavior is after a reader recommends a post.
As shown in the mock below, after the “recommend” button is clicked, a prompt appears and the reader’s cursor is focused inside the text field for easier input. In this moment, the reader has expressed appreciation and likely more motivated to send a thoughtful message to the author in reciprocation for their work.
What do you think? Message the author (me!) and let me know.
 Of course, I asked Winnie for her permission before sharing her email publicly.
 As with Medium’s notes, authors — particularly those with large audiences — may want the ability to disable messages in their account settings.