Medium Makes Web Browsing Social

Do you feel alone in your web browser, separated by time and space from all the other people out there exploring the internet? A startup called Medium thinks it can help make web browsing social by telling you what pages your friends are on at any moment, and where people are congregating on the web at that instant. Think of it as a real-time StumbleUpon, or an implicitly determined Digg.

The company’s origin is in enterprise collaboration software developed by founder Robert Reich, who moved out to Boulder, Colorado with co-founders David Mandell and Peter Newcomb for the opportunity to bring on Kimbal Musk as CEO. Musk, along with his brother Elon, sold their content management company Zip2 in 1999. Since then, they have been involved in the formation of companies like PayPal, SpaceX, and Tesla Motors…Kimbal has even opened a restaurant. When we asked him what all his various endeavors had in common, he said “Well, they all face the consumer…except for the rockets.”

Medium, founded July 2005, is in private beta right now, and won’t be available till at least the end of the year. The current implementation is a Firefox extension comprised of a visualization window and a chat window. The visualization is a bit oblique at the moment, but the idea is to portray a map of the entire internet and foreground the site you are currently viewing in your browser as well as related pages (which are basically determined by people who go to the same sites you do).

This is less personal than something like MyBlogLog, because users are kept anonymous to all but their friends unless they choose to be exposed. If you ever want to stop being tracked, it is pretty easy to toggle off (and this is done automatically for any password-protected site). As for the chat, it is along the same lines as MeeboMe, or perhaps Trailfire or Diigo, in that users’ discussion of a page stays with that page for other Medium users to view.

The company, which hasn’t managed to secure the Medium.com domain yet, is funded by Spark Capital and Appian Ventures with an undisclosed sum, though Musk hinted that the number was large because of the requirements of the company’s backend infrastructure.

While I look forward to future implementations of things like breadcrumbs to record where you’ve been, as well as more informative visualizations, the most compelling part of Medium is social. It’s really fun to follow your friends around; for instance, this morning as I’ve been writing, a crowd gathered around a local paper’s story about Medium. I can click over to find out what the hubbub is all about. You can see how this would get a lot more fun with more people on it. I’ll hand out a few more invites to the first commenters so we try to figure out together if this is a novelty item or something compelling enough to keep around long-term.

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