Yesterday I was at the movies with my son and during the endless roll of trailers, promos and advertisements, I was terribly, terribly bored so I dropped into the Medium app and saw something that I knew I wanted to read in more depth so I hearted it (by hearted I mean I clicked on the heart icon on the toolbar and watched it change color). I figured that would be enough to find it later. I also remembered a little bit about it:

  • author: james altschuler
  • keywords: hedge fund marriage thestreet.com

Just to cut to the chase, here’s the exact article but the process by which I found something that I had:

  • already read
  • that I had hearted as a favorite
  • that I knew had certain keywords

was an absolute usability failure and one that I just don’t understand.

Usability Failure #1 - Where Are My Hearted Things?

The next day I went to Medium in my laptop’s browser and signed in and I could not find the things I liked. So I looked again, nope. My next thought was ok maybe these are just stored in the Medium app on my phone – nope I couldn’t find anything there either. This led me back to my laptop’s browser where I finally googled it and found a Quora post that talked about it but their solution was no longer part of the Medium user interface. They also pointed out that you could goto http://medium.com/@user/has-recommended and find your posts. I typed in the correct url for me: http://medium.com/@fuzzygroup/has-recommended and that actually did work but the question remains:

Medium has serious founders, serious money, serious talent – how can this be a problem?

Note: I never did find a way to get back to my hearted items on my phone.

Usability Failure #2 - Search

When I couldn’t find the article I knew was there, I turned to search as the next obvious way to find it. Here was my process:

  1. So I started with a search for james altschuler and that gave zero hits.
  2. Then I continued with a search for thestreet.com and that gave me hits but not the article I knew I had read. Now I have no problem with a spelling error on altschuler but “thestreet.com” – nope.
  3. I then proceeded to search for hedge fund and again the article that I wanted wasn’t there.
  4. Ok I’ll accept that there are lots and lots of articles about hedge funds but how many hedge fund articles talk about the collapse of his marriage - that must work, right? Nope. That three word query brings back just a single article. Interestingly Google finds 360 things on medium that contain hedge fund and marriage and the post I was looking for was on the second page. I ran the google search with “hedge fund” and “marriage” to force all the terms to be in there as well as to treat “hedge fund” as a string.

How Did I Finally Find It?

I finally ended up giving up on Medium’s user interface and its search engine and using my incorrect version of the author’s name and Google found the right author as the very first result. I then scrolled down and found the article.

Conclusion

By any Silicon Valley standards, Medium is a real thing:

It is very, very hard for me to understand this level of usability failure at a company with these type of metrics. I can, perhaps, excuse the user interface to hearted items as being a redesign where something got lost in the shuffle. But the search failure is deeply, deeply troubling. If you’re in the content business then search is a requirement not an option and a search algorithm that:

  • deals with misspellings
  • takes into account user input such as hearts / likes
  • actually finds the damn keywords the user puts in

should not be a problem in 2017. I’m spent my career in search in retrieval and we were solving these types of issue back in the early 90s if not sooner. I just can’t fathom exactly what Medium is doing but they would likely be better served at this point by just embedding google instead of whatever search tool they’ve

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