The Evolution of Highlights: Empowering Writers and Engaging Readers


Hatched by Glasp

Aug 20, 2023

3 min read


The Evolution of Highlights: Empowering Writers and Engaging Readers


In today's digital age, the way we consume content has drastically transformed. Platforms like Medium have revolutionized the publishing industry by offering a space for both stream-of-consciousness conversation and long-form writing. However, measuring value on such platforms can be challenging, as vanity metrics like views or clicks do not necessarily reflect depth and engagement. This is where the feature of Highlights on Medium comes into play, changing the publishing landscape forever. Highlights allow readers to engage with content on a more granular level, while also providing valuable feedback to authors. Let's explore how Highlights have impacted the world of publishing.

The Power of Highlights:

Medium's unique selling proposition lies in its ability to provide a platform that allows readers to interact with content in a meaningful way. One of the standout features that sets Medium apart is the presence of Highlights. When readers highlight a specific phrase, sentence, or paragraph in an article, it becomes an independent piece where others can add comments, reply to existing comments, and even share it on Twitter. This feature not only encourages engagement but also allows readers to make the content their own.

Improving Highlights:

Since its inception in 2015, Medium has continuously worked on improving the Highlights feature. Initially, authors received notifications whenever a passage was highlighted, enabling them to identify popular sections of their articles. Later, the addition of comment functionality to each Highlight further deepened the conversation. Medium's product team draws inspiration from user behavior and feedback to enhance features. They ensure that the right number of Highlights are surfaced per post, prioritize Highlights from friends over random users, and consider the number of people who have highlighted a passage. This iterative approach has contributed to the success of Highlights.

Engaging Readers and Empowering Writers:

Highlights not only benefit readers but also empower writers. By offering a direct line of feedback from their audience, Medium authors gain valuable insights into what resonates with their readership. Feedback is crucial for writers to understand what engages their audience and what falls short. This knowledge allows authors to improve their writing and build a larger following on Medium. Highlights create a sense of achievement for authors, as they see readers engaging with their content and making it their own.

Lesson #1: "Engagement drives stickiness drives retention drives growth":

Medium's focus on Total Time Reading (TTR) as the key performance indicator (KPI) demonstrates the importance of measuring true engagement. Vanity metrics may provide a broader reach, but they do not reflect the value users derive from a product. Identifying a single metric that truly measures the value users receive can lead to better product decisions.

Lesson #2: Start small (but not too small) and iterate as you learn:

Medium's approach to product development involves starting with a basic feature and refining it based on user behavior and feedback. Starting small allows for quick iterations and improvements, ensuring that the final product aligns with user needs and preferences.

Lesson #3: Don't assume everyone uses your product the same way:

Medium recognizes that users interact with their platform in various ways. By analyzing how users utilize features and adapting accordingly, Medium ensures that the platform caters to diverse user preferences. This approach highlights the importance of understanding user behavior and tailoring the product experience accordingly.


The introduction of Highlights on Medium has transformed the publishing landscape by fostering engagement between readers and writers. By allowing readers to interact with content on a granular level, Highlights encourage meaningful discussions and make the reading experience more social. For authors, Highlights provide valuable feedback and insights into their audience's preferences. Medium's focus on Total Time Reading (TTR) as a key metric emphasizes the importance of measuring true engagement. By incorporating these lessons, and continuously iterating on features, businesses can create products that truly resonate with users and drive growth.

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