Things We Could Do With Highlights

I’ve highlighted so many things… so I wrote this.

Harris Sockel
3 min readMar 27, 2023

[I originally published this on Hatch — our internal Medium staff blog — a few years ago. We’re not using Hatch as much anymore, so I’m reposting it publicly because I don’t want to lose it. And weirdly, I still like it!]

I highlight… a lot? All the time, it feels like. Every story I love, there I am, highlighting. It feels very good in the moment. Cliiiiiick. Very “This.” The feeling ranges depending on context. A highlight can be mildly satisfying, like nodding your head. It can be sarcastic, like when you highlight an oddly revealing phrase in a long quote by a famous person.* And sometimes a highlight simply means, “I want to remember this.”

I do it to show writers I care. Or to help myself keep track of the argument in a complex post. Or just to… leave a mark? To signal to myself, “I am reading this. I will remember this. I am alive and looking at this screen right now, reading, understanding, I have a body and a mind and so do you.”

Yet after the act of highlighting, these highlights are lost to the sands of Medium. Sometimes I wish I could go back, refresh my memory, remember what I loved, revisit all my “This”es.

Here are some serious and not-serious thoughts on how we could use highlights to deliver more value to readers.

  • Self-serve T-shirt for members with a highlight of their choice
  • A personalized word cloud using words from everything you’ve highlighted (ehh… no)
  • A little printed book with all of your highlights, like a personalized Poor Richard’s Almanac
  • “Top highlight” on topic landing pages
  • Glow-in-the-dark wall decals
  • Editorially selected Top Highlight as a huge banner on the logged-out homepage (we could just use whatever we put in back issues of The Edition), with a link to the story
  • “What your friends are highlighting” on the logged-in homepage, maybe a sidebar scroll or always-refreshable screenshot of what someone you know highlighted, with the link to the story and the highlighter’s profile photo
  • Share highlights on Twitter & Facebook (or style the quote cards as highlights, or with a subtle nod to highlights).
  • A new media property, tangentially related to Medium, that is all about aphorisms and is purely the best highlights. Background is black (so, this website is permanently in dark mode), and highlights are green over black text. It’s like, edgy and intellectual ??? But a side-thing, like off-menu Medium.
  • Highlights can be commented on, somehow. Each highlight starts a conversation.
  • Use highlights on loading screens in the app, somehow? Maybe even just for copy styling.
  • What if there were a cap on highlights so you had to use them wisely?
  • If all you’ve done is clapped and highlighted, maybe your profile page does more with that data… maybe it shows more than three highlights.
  • Top highlight(s) as a feature on publication homepages?
  • For some reason I keep thinking of a rave, everyone is in black and all you can see are highlights
  • Glasses or glow sticks
  • In the Daily Digest, if you’ve been a user for over a year, you occasionally get a little zing from the past with something you highlighted ages ago that has since become a “top highlight” (meaning it would probably make sense out of context in the digest, just for you). Might encourage rereading and remembering your longstanding user-ship.
  • Pick a highlight and use it as a platform-wide writing prompt.
  • Maybe you can choose a highlight to go on the top of your profile, if you really identify with it. Or you can pin it somewhere.
  • “What your friends are highlighting” but in The Daily Digest, somehow.
  • Browser plugin enabling you to highlight anything on the internet (this is already a thing, I discovered).
  • A podcast where we ask people to share something they highlighted recently and what was so compelling to them about it. Or we make new hires share that, or we just use it as a conversation starter in any format.
  • We don’t get too heavy-handed about it and just let highlights ~be.

All this is to say, I think highlights are a great feature and whenever I’m reading off-Medium, I appreciate them even more.

*This post started when I was reading a story about Goop and wanted very badly to somewhat-sarcastically highlight a quote attributed to Gwyneth Paltrow. I recommend the story, it’s great.

If you use Medium and have thoughts on cool stuff we could do with the highlight feature, let me know.