How Medium Highlighter Changed the Reading Experience

No matter how you prefer to do it, highlighting and noting your insights will turn your research game around.

If you’re an avid Medium reader, you’re already familiar with the celebrated highlighter feature -- one that’s enhanced the way we handpick our information and share our thoughts. 

Wait, but...is it possible that a seemingly tiny feature has changed the world’s reading experience? Yes. Yes, it is. Not just the reading experience, but the writing experience, as well. 

The highlight feature was introduced in March 2015, and was described as “the most fun you can have on Medium”. Indeed! If you’re either a writer, a reader, or both, you’ll get a triple advantage: you’ll be perusing an author’s work, focusing on its noteworthy bits, and as a bonus, assessing other readers' take on the piece. 

For those of you who don’t use it, the simplicity of this tool is almost laughable: highlight any passage, hit the highlighter icon, and you’re done. No more than two fingers are needed. It’s a breeze for touchpad and mouse users alike. 

On Medium, highlighting a text goes beyond a perfunctory act of selecting content; it makes the learning process as straightforward as possible, adding elements of social communication to it. Here’s how it does all of that. 

It Highlights the Importance of Curator Economy. 

Pun intended. 

At this point, we already know content curation has an impact on our learning and the way we spend our time online. First, it does the job of cherry-picking the most relevant content through a rough estimate of 1,200 petabytes of content online. That’s 1.2 million terabytes of blogs, articles, videos, or whatever type of content you prefer to consume. And, let’s face it, none of us would be able to consume all of it in a lifetime. 

Web highlighters like Medium polish the work by grabbing that already pre-selected content and, as if squeezing fresh juice from a lime, wrings the memorable parts out. 

It Lets Social Proof Do Its Job

Go to any popular Medium article and you’ll find a highlighted passage labeled “top highlight”. That’s pretty self-explanatory, right?

People go, “hey, since so many people are highlighting this, it must be important”, which helps them keep that passage in mind. It’s pretty similar to Amazon Kindle’s highlight feature, where you can see how many people have highlighted a phrase or paragraph. The only difference is that Medium doesn’t immediately show the number of highlighters. But one thing is sure: the more people highlight something, the higher that number is likely to get. 

That’s because people love to know what others with similar tastes will find important to memorize, or at least what’s worthy of future reference. In this case, if a large number of like-minded readers can view honorable excerpts, they’ll be inclined to emphasize them. That’s how collective knowledge is built. 

The folks at Medium call that “piling on the positivity”, since it encourages writers to keep sharing their content with the world. This is how a single highlight can improve the reading and writing experiences at once.

Any Comments? Thoughts?

You see, highlighting and notetaking go hand-in-hand. 

You could definitely do one without the other, but your learning experience could be compromised. If you find you have trouble memorizing things or want to train your mind to retain content for the long term, start making annotations. Just try it. 

Here’s a friendly tip: when mere highlighting becomes social highlighting and notetaking becomes sharing one’s point of view, things get a lot more interesting. 

Regardless of what you believe, your teachers were right: writing things down makes you remember things better. The positive effects of taking notes are even more promising if you write (or type) them down in your own words. 

Of course, the folks at Medium knew that from the start, and added a much-needed attachment, with a twist: reader responses. 

Highlight any passage from any Medium text, and just beside the little highlighter icon you’ll see a chat bubble. That’s where people get to provide their input on what they've just read, read comments from other readers, and even clap for them. They may even start a chat by replying to other comments, engaging in compatible conversations. 

Plus, users may add those observations to their respective profiles, which is ideal in case someone wants to look at more of what they enjoy. It’s now clear that the ostensibly simple act of highlighting a text helps create strong connections among people on the web. 

Get Highlighting. Or Rather, Web Highlighting.

If you want to remember important things in 10 years and don’t feel like going through that whole book again, or simply want to share your ideas with the world, highlighting is the surest way to go about it. 

No matter how you prefer to do it, highlighting and noting your insights will turn your research game around. Platforms like Medium and Glasp have seized that idea and made it effortless for anyone looking to find and publish thought-provoking content online. 

See you next time,

Kazuki