I’ve been using me.dium for a few weeks now, and it’s a really interesting service I think more people should try, so I thought I’d try and explain what it’s all about.
The first hurdle I ran into when I installed it was understanding what on earth it was! It adds a sidebar, with a radar screen at the top showing website icons, that mysteriously shift around when you move between pages, and an area at the bottom for IM-style chat. It took several days of use before it really clicked, and it’s still hard to explain, so I’ll just give some concrete examples of what it can do for you:
Uber-StumbleUpon . The radar screen shows you sites that it believes are related to the one you’re currently on, using some kind of algorithmic black magic. This led to some fun website-hopping, SU-style, as I discovered new sites that were similar to others I already visited. What really impressed me though was when it showed a technical site that had exactly the answers I needed, while I was researching a tricky coding question. It saved me days of work, since I’d been searching hard and that site never came up through Google.
IM with Context. As well as showing you sites on the radar, it also has icons representing your friends who are visiting those sites. This adds a new dimension to IM, since you can see which sites your friends are visiting, have an idea if they’re busy or bored, and generally get a bit of the same implicit social information that’s so important when you’re in the same room as someone. It’s as if you can glance over each other’s shoulders and see what you’re up to. This obviously has privacy implications, but I see it being pretty similar to the real-world. There’s times and people you’d be happy seeing what sites you’re visiting, but you want control over that. In the real-world you’d do this by keeping your screen out-of-sight if needed, and controlling who wanders around your house or office. In me.dium you can do the same by turning off sharing, and limiting your friends to those you don’t mind seeing your surfing habits.
Give Every Website a Comments Section. As well as showing related sites on the radar, the sidebar shows conversations that were written by people visiting the same or similar pages. This is really handy for annotating websites, either just shooting the breeze with strangers, or having an in-depth discussion about the content of a site. This is something I’ve wanted for a long time, there’s never been a simple, universal way to see this sort of user content on a site. Even when comments are allowed, the machinery is always fairly clunky and heavyweight, usually requiring moderation to defeat spam, and some mental effort to compose a ‘post’, which excludes the spontaneity of IM style chat. I don’t think me.dium will replace traditional comments, since the conversations are not part of the public net for posterity, but I think this really fills a gap.
Make New Friends. This is another place where me.dium is more like the real world our primate social skills were developed for. If you see there’s someone else on ilovealbinopygmyllamas.com while you’re visiting, you’ll see an icon, with no identifying information unless they’re a friend. You might well strike up a conversation, just like you might if you bump into somebody reaching for the same book in the library. The key to this is that there’s almost no effort involved, you will naturally see people who share your interests, and might get to know them better.
As you can probably tell, I’m pretty excited about the future of the service, especially as more people begin to use it. If you have Firefox, try it for yourself! Don’t worry if you’re on IE, there should be a version for you in a few weeks.