‪Product Management Lessons: How Medium replacing ❤️ with 👏has made the product much worse

The Purpose of Likes in a Social Media App

The ability to a like a post on a social media platform like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and until recently, Medium, serves a few distinct purposes for users and creators of content on these sites.

  1. A like is a way to encourage authors to create more content via the dopamine rush of being told people appreciate their post and shows them the type of content their audience likes.
  2. The number of likes sends a signal to readers of how interesting or not the content is especially for content that may take time to digest like a video or long form post so they can decide if it’s worth investing in clicking.
  3. Likes provide a way for the reader to “thank” the author for their content and signals to the platform’s relevance algorithms the type of content the user would like to see more of.

How 👏’s Muddy the Waters

Let’s look at each of the benefits of “likes” on social media platforms and see how Medium’s old system of compare with 👏.

  1. In the old system as an author I could tell that a post with 25 was appreciated more by readers than one that got 8. In the new system any user can give 1 to 50 👏 (claps) . So it is now possible to have the same two posts where one has 25 claps and the other has 155 claps because three of the people who read the second post gave it 50 claps. So as an author the number of reactions is now not a useful guage of interest. This is further complicated by Medium deciding to pay authors based on how long people hold down the 👏button (i.e. number of claps) instead of how many people liked the post or how many people read it. This is very counter intuitive for authors.
  2. Using the previous example, a reader may thing an article with 155 claps is more interesting than one with 25 claps yet in reality 3 times as many people liked the latter article than the former. This means the number of reactions on a post is no longer a meaningful measure of how interesting or popular a piece of content is. For a real world example, this post I wrote in response to James Damore’s gender manifesto currently has 830 claps while this post I wrote last year about diversity hiring practices at tech companies has 799 claps. However the older post was actually appreciated by twice as many people. 🤔 XKCD captured the problem of users overrating content in this classic comic

So why did Medium make this change?

From the announcement post



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Dare Obasanjo

Dare Obasanjo


"Everything you touch you change. Everything you change, changes you" - Octavia Butler, Parable of the Sower