But bookmarking articles in Medium is quick and painless, so I gave it a shot. Bonus: because I do UX on TED’s own bookmarking feature, I’m always curious to see how peers are dealing with similar challenges. Now, a few weeks in, I no longer save Medium stories to Instapaper.
A little background
Bookmarking in Medium is free and generally more frictionless than saving something to a third-party service like Instapaper or Pocket: you don’t have to use a browser extension, bookmarklet, or sharing feature, and it’s much quicker: click and it’s saved, no lag. You don’t have to leave Medium to read your bookmarked stories. And bookmarked stories retain their formatting, whereas articles parsed by Instapaper or Pocket may have text, layout, and image issues.
With with the advent of paid memberships on Medium came, among other things, offline reading of bookmarked stories. These saved stories are synced across devices just like Instapaper and Pocket. However, Instapaper is free, and there is a freemium version of Pocket. Plus, Instapaper and Pocket let you bookmark items from any site, not just Medium. However, many publications have their own bookmarking features, and I think Medium’s is better than most.
So what would make Medium’s bookmarking and offline reading better? I’ve made a list of bugs and improvements.
Fix this, improve that
Bug: stories are frequently unavailable when the app is not connected to the Internet. Bookmarked items simply won’t load. The app appears to be searching, but can’t find items.
Bug: images often don’t load when offline, leaving in their stead gray boxes containing unfilfilled hopes and dreams.
Improvement: reading position should be retained across sessions and devices. Instapaper and Pocket, for example, remember where you left off in an article and bring you to that point when you return, regardless of the device or session. This is a major annoyance: if I come back to a story, even in the same session, my position is lost and I have to figure out where I was.
Bug: when I’m in an article and I tap the bookmark icon — once to archive, twice to remove it altogether — that decision is not retained. In other words, the story remains in my reading list, regardless of the action I’ve taken within the story itself. Update: I suspect the issue is that there’s a slight delay while the request is processed, but there’s no visual indicator making that clear. For example, if I select “Remove” and wait a moment, the change to my reading list takes effect, but not if I quickly navigate away from a story.
Bug: possibly related to the issue above, when I bookmark a story, sometimes it doesn’t show up in my bookmarks list. This happens most often in the app; it’s quite frustrating when I want to read an article I know I saved and can’t find it. As with the above issue, though, if I remember to pause a moment before navigating away, the story is usually saved.
Improvement: “I like big text and I cannot lie.” Please, Medium, add a font-size widget in the app. This is an accessibility no-brainer.
Improvement: Night time is the right time for reading. A dark mode would be wonderful for the night owls among us.
Improvement: The place where you find all your bookmarks is called Reading list. Why not Your bookmarks or just Bookmarks to keep it consistent with the bookmark action?
Improvement: a long list of bookmarks would benefit from a search feature. This is particularly true in archives where I might want to find something I saved earlier. Update: I just received an email from Medium announcing Search in the reading list. Huzzah!
Improvement: sorting bookmarked stories would be fab. The default sort is by date saved in descending order, but I’d like to be able to sort other ways as well. For example, by reading time or number of recommends.
Improvement: as with sorting, the ability to filter items would be useful. For example, I’d like the ability to filter by topic or publication. (I consider this an icing-on-the-cake feature, not a necessity.)
Improvement: ability to save stories in folders. I have several folders in Instapaper where I archive items in a way that’s logical to me. This allows me to reference saved items later while keeping my main feed uncluttered. If not folders, tags would do the trick, too.
Improvement: there needs to be greater visual distinction between bookmark list and bookmark action icons. I frequently confuse the double-bookmark icon at the top of a Medium story with the bookmark icons on the left and bottom of a story. This results in an unexpected visit to my bookmarks list when what I’d intended was to bookmark a story. Labeling could also help alleviate this issue.
Improvement: offline reading should be free to all users. It’s not a feature unique to Medium, after all, and it would encourage more engagement. This could lead to more paid memberships. If Medium’s product team really feels offline reading is a premium product, then perhaps they could offer a limited version for non-paid memberships as an enticement to level up (e.g., limit the number of articles one can save, or make folders a paid option).
The bottom line
Medium’s bookmarks and offline reading mode are well executed. Buffing up a few rough spots would make them better, but certainly not worth $60 per year when services like Instapaper and Pocket can do the same for less. Good thing there are other reasons to become a Medium member!