Medium Staff Picks List Analysis

I collected data on all the stories in the Staff Picks list, which is featured on the frontpage of Medium.
Feb 22, 2023
5 min

How Does The Frontpage of Medium Work? The frontpage of Medium has two views — Ranked and Scrollable — which contain stories from various authors on the platform. The Ranked View is based on a story’s algorithmic score but only features 6 stories. The rest of the stories — in the Scrollable View of the homepage (logged-out) — are selected by a curation team via the Staff Picks list.

How Do You Get On The Frontpage of Medium? You either publish a distributed story with a Top 6 algorithmic score or get placed in the Staff Picks list. Of course, stories in the Scrollable View of the Staff Picks list can also enter the Ranked View. These views are significant since they showcase your story to all incoming yet logged-out Medium users.

So why stop there? I sure didn’t. Distribution is everything: You can create the best story in the world, but you will fail to write sustainably if no one reads it. Then, you’re sent back to the wagie cage. Ask how I know… At the very least, respect your work by giving it the best chance to succeed.

The Data

I collected all of the following fields from the stories in the list on February 20, 2023: list_order, publication_id, publication_name, publication_url, author_id, author_name, author_username, author_url, author_image_url, author_is_medium_member_at, author_is_book_author, author_bio, author_followers, story_id, story_title, story_url, story_p_url, story_image_url, story_image_alt, story_subtitle, story_publish_date, story_updated_date, story_preview_time, story_is_metered, story_is_shortform, story_comments, story_unique_votes, story_claps, story_tags.

Once collected, I annotated the data. Images were loaded in a spreadsheet. Authors were marked as male or female based on their profile pictures (alongside further research). Author profile pictures were also marked as human or humanlike.

I classified humanlike images as images that contained artistic versions of a human (i.e Jake KnappDuncan Sabien). I performed the same process for a story’s featured image. I also labeled whether the author’s name fits a human or an organization.

I could’ve used OpenCV to label the pictures using face recognition (machine learning), but I was lazy. So instead, I did it by hand. Perhaps, I made a mistake or two. Yet that wouldn’t change much unless I’m terrible at identifying a person’s gender.

Once the data was annotated, I performed a quick analysis on it.

The Analysis

Stories: Don’t Forget These Things

When creating a story, do these things to give yourself a fair shot at being selected for the Scrollable View (Staff Picks).

What is optional? 79 (50.9%) stories were metered (requiring membership to view). 63 (40.6%) stories had featured images with humans in them. 25 (16.1%) stories had images with humanlike features in them. 2 stories had alt attributes on their featured images.

Note: You aren’t supposed to add alternative attributes to decorative images: For more information, read the Web Accessibility Initiative.

Preview Read Time Occurrences

What is interesting? The average story preview time is 8.39 minutes, while the median story preview time is 7 minutes. This means that most stories (90; 58.06%) are 7 minutes long or less, with a few outliers (7 stories; 4.5%) that lie on the higher end of preview read time (30+ minutes). That said, Mike Sall, the former Head of Data Science at Medium, states that “The Optimal Story Is 7 Minutes Long”: This is because 7-minute stories capture the most Total Read Time, while 3 minutes stories capture the most views.

Of course, the most frequent preview read time in the Staff Picks list — at the time of my collection — was 5 minutes.

Authors: The Placement Gap

Author data is calculated using each story (155) rather than for each unique author (137). If your profile has a human name (140 stories; 90.3%), and a human profile picture (134 stories; 86.45%), then congratulations! That’s what most authors selected by Medium Staff have too. Only 9 (5.81%) stories had authors with a humanlike profile picture.

11 (7.1%) stories had an organization as an author: Medium Staff claims five stories (in addition to the stories with an author over 1 million followers)153 (98.7%) stories had authors with biographies (which isn’t /about). A single author mentioned Substack, a competitor of Medium.

What is optional? 95 (61.2%) stories had authors who were Medium members at the time of data collection18 (11.6%) stories were verified book authors. 150 (96.7%) stories had authors with over 100 followers. 75 (48.3%) stories had authors with over 3,000 followers. Of course, being placed in the Scrollable View will result in a gain of followers after the fact.

What is interesting? Of the 155 stories in the Staff Picks list, only 63 (40.7%) authors were women compared to 82 (52.9%) men. Hence, the recommendation to change your profile picture to a masculine image. This will give you a better chance at getting a story on the frontpage of Medium.

Disclaimer. What explains the lack of female writers in the Staff Picks list? Could fewer women write on the platform? Could it be that the platform prioritizes topics women don’t care about? I don’t know. This story just contains my observations on the data I collected: Medium Staff promotes more men than women.

I’m not a data scientist, I just collect the data that matters.

Publications: Worth It Or Not?

Will publishing your story with a publication improve your chances of getting on the frontpage of Medium? Regarding the Scrollable View, 81 (52.2%) stories were published with a publication. That said, it’s clear that certain publishers are more important than others. The most notable publisher is Human Parts, with 10 (6.5%) stories placed in the Staff Picks list. Considering that 3 Min Read — with 8 stories placed — is the Medium Blog, it’s hard to argue whether publications are significant for selection in the Staff Picks list.

Note: Human Parts is a Medium Owned and Operated Publication.

Tags: Don’t Write Fiction

The Top 5 tags (topics) in the Staff Picks list are life, psychology, self-improvement, technology, and design. It should be noted that there were a total of 339 unique tags used in the stories of the list. However, only 149 stories used at least one tag. The authors of stories that didn’t contain tags were Selam G, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Scott H. Young, MacKenzie Scott, Middle Seat Consulting, and Pete Buttigieg.

Medium's Staff Picks top comment.
Top Comment on Staff Picks List

This top comment on the Staff Picks list isn’t wrong. There is a single story with a “fiction” tag and one other story with a “poetry” tag. There are seven stories with a “humor” tag. However, it’s important to remember that a story’s author selects its tags. In any case, the significance of this data is that the Medium Staff doesn’t enjoy reading poems or fiction stories and prefers personal experiences over analytical information.

Content: The Wagie World

Someone’s having a tough time at Medium HQ. The content listed in the Scrollable View — from publications — tends to focus on productivity tips, work boundaries, and burnout prevention. There are also several resources for Senior Product Managers. If you are a curator for the Staff Picks list, take a break. Read some Wagie Woes. You deserve it.

Read More

improve Your Mindset

Newsletter (Prod)

Unsubscribe at any time. See Privacy Policy