How Does The Frontpage of Medium Work?

The frontpage of Medium explained.
Feb 15, 2023
4 min

Have you ever wondered how stories displayed on the frontpage of Medium are selected? Me too. So I decided to figure it out. Here is what I found.

How Does The Medium Algorithm Work?

What is an Algorithm? Medium’s story algorithm is not that magical. The platform pays writers for Member Reading Time because that metric is correlated with more subscriptions, which generates more money for Medium. So it’s no surprise that the Medium algorithm weighs Story Read Time heavily.

This behavior is similar to YouTube weighing Video Watch Time heavily.

From personal experience, non-member reading time is a factor in the Medium algorithm. However, I can’t determine the weight of that metric without data from many authors’ stories. In any case, Read Time is the most important metric for a story’s algorithmic score.

Time (since the publish date) is another important metric that lowers the weight of a story’s algorithmic score.

How Do Tags Work?

The algorithm for promoted tags isn’t that important: Medium shows them on the frontpage (when you aren’t logged in). That said, there is no indication of how tags are scored: It could be as simple as the number of times the tag is used or as complex as combining the aggregate metrics of stories containing a tag for further analysis. For more information on how tags work, read Mapping Medium’s Tags.

Note: Promoted tags aren’t sorted by the number of followers each tag has.

What Stories Are Shown On The Frontpage?

There are two views on the frontpage (homepage) of Medium, which contain multiple stories: One “Ranked” view contains a numbered grid of 6 stories. The other “Scrollable” view contains an “infinitely” scrollable list of stories. Top tags are also displayed under the Ranked view.

The Ranked View

The Ranked View of Medium’s frontpage displays stories based on their algorithmic performance. However, these stories must adhere to Medium’s Distribution Standards among other filters (such as rules, spam, NSFW, etc).

How can a story become eligible for algorithmic distribution? Medium’s Network Distribution policy states that “all stories are eligible for further distribution by default”. However, your story will be removed from distribution if it’s deemed low quality.

For more information on algorithmic distribution, read “How Does Distribution and Curation Work On Medium?”

The Scrollable View

The Scrollable View of Medium’s frontpage displays stories in Medium’s “Staff Picks”. Employees at Medium curate this list and are heavily influenced by their What We’re Reading series from their 3 Min Read publication.

You may notice that it’s common for stories in this list to enter the Ranked View. When this occurs, these stories will NOT be displayed in the Scrollable View. This phenomenon is likely because stories in this list — which meet Medium’s Distribution Standards — will be placed on the frontpage: Being placed on the frontpage doesn’t directly affect a story’s algorithmic score, but its indirect effects are significant.

A story on the frontpage is exposed to all Medium users (that have yet to log in). Of course, these users are more likely to read Medium stories than any other platform’s users. A story’s Total Read Time increases as more people read it. So a story in the Scrollable View is able to gain the algorithmic score required to enter the Ranked View.

The Tags Page

Clicking a tag (topic) brings you to its /tag page that contains three selectable routes which control the respective sorting algorithm for story order.

  • The “Trending” route displays stories ranked by algorithmic score in a similar manner to the Ranked View.
  • The “Latest” route displays approved stories ranked by algorithmic score with a higher time penalty.
  • The “Best” route displays approved stories within the selected time period ranked by algorithmic score.

The tag page features a view with “Related Topics” (tags), which show related tags (specified in the “Mapping Medium Tags” story).

The tag page also features a view with “Top Writers” who maintain stories with the highest aggregate algorithmic score (for the tag). As per Medium’s announcement “Introducing Top Writers in Tags”, the system “prioritizes writers who publish stories that garner significant reading time (for a given tag)”. Writers must “tag each post with the relevant tag” to qualify as a Top Writer.

Note that not all tag pages display the Top Writer view.

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