avatarJay Squires


Let’s Talk About the Claps: You Got ’em. I Want ’em

Don’t let anyone tell you that claps don’t matter

Image courtesy of Pixabay

“What is the sound of one hand clapping?”

That famous Zen koan — the sound of one hand clapping — may be a good anchor for meditation. It may be the perfect way to provoke enlightenment. But it’s a shitty way to demonstrate engagement at the end of a Broadway play — or a Medium post.

We were born for applause.

Say you’re a lead actor in a Broadway play. You acted your ass off for three hours during the performance. The final curtain drops. The actors line up for the curtain call. Now, keep in mind, you’re the real enchilada! You’re the one everybody came to see. You are the first to step out from your fellow actors. Taking a slow, deep, flamboyant bow, you hold it for what seems like forever, and then you glance up to see a stony-faced audience … and the echo of a single person clearing his throat (the Medium equivalent of one clap).

That would be any actor’s nightmare!

It would be any Medium writer’s bane.

We were born for applause.

When you were a child, don’t you remember clowning it up for your Mama or Daddy? Come on! You remember! Hell, you’d do anything to get your Daddy to grin, or your Mama to pull you into a spontaneous hug. And don’t you remember your brother and sister secretly seething because you’re getting the love and not them?

My God! Where is your memory?

Don’t you dare tell me applause doesn’t matter. Because we’ll all know you’re lying. I’ll call you a liar — I’ll do it, right here in front of all your Medium brothers and sisters!

Oh, I can hear some of you muttering back there that you’re not a child any more. You’re a grown man. You’re a grown woman. You and Paul the Apostle have put childish things behind you.

Bull Shit!

You’re just taller. You’ve filled out. You’re voice has gotten deeper. But you’re the same kid you’ve always been — and you’re a dopamine addict. I’m a dopamine addict. Let’s shout it out together. We’re all freaking dopamine addicts!

Now doesn’t that feel better?

Getting to the core of claps

To the Medium algorithm, one clap has the same “economic” value as 50. claps. The one clap is like a switch the reader flips to alert Medium that the story has been completed. So any clap beyond the first, to the algorithm, is attended with a roll of the eyes as simply an ego stroke. Right?

Most decidedly, NOT RIGHT!

What the most sophisticated algorithm doesn’t snatch from the ethers is what goes on inside a potential reader’s mind before he chooses whether or not to read a story. And I don’t mean a glitzy picture or a snazzy headline. As important as they are, please consider this:

Suppose you have a choice between two stories. Both are eight-minute reads. Both have stunning images, the headlines and subheadlines, both knock you out of your seat! The first has 250 claps. The second has 4,000 claps. You don’t have time to read both. Which do you think will provide the better investment of your time and enthusiasm?

Don’t tell me claps are not an important gauge of what the people are going to read.

A general statement on claps

A single clap

There are only three reasons for giving a writer a single, solitary clap.

  1. You are brand-new to Medium. This is one of the first of, say, five stories you’ve read on Medium, and you thought that one clap was all you could give. If it takes reading more than 5 separate stories to realize this, then there are a few watts missing in your epiphany bulb. (By the way, Medium insists on calling everything “stories”, even if they’re clearly articles, so I’ll reluctantly do the same, here.)
  2. You have anger issues against the writer or her subject matter, and she deserves to know. Your only regret is that the rest of the Mediumites are not privy to the one-clap statement you’ve made.
  3. You are truly caring. In fact, it grieves you that you are the only one with the courage to tell the writer, in this manner, that he does not meet up to the high standard you’ve set. He’ll thank you, his kind critic, later — just like he thanked his 6th grade teacher for failing him.

Over one, but under fifteen claps

I’m sorry, but if you give two to fifteen claps, you are making a statement. And if you own any cajones at all, you will dangle them over the written comment you leave afterward. But make that comment you must, if — you know, cajones, and all.

But it is at this juncture, I feel I must confess to being in the clutch of fury, to the extent that I taste the sulfur of hell on my breath … and that is when a reader follows me, opts for email notification, saves my story to the category of, The Best I’ve Read, leaves a comment that leaves me blushing with pride, and culminating with, “Are you offering any writing courses?” — and then rewards me with three f**king claps. I’ll bet that’s happened to some of you.

Claps do matter!

Sixteen to forty-nine claps

Okay, clearly, you can see by now that I’m being just a trifle arbitrary over the cut-off numbers. The point I’m making is that somewhere in the middle range, it’s not likely to be interpreted by the writer as a vendetta against her. But she’s still gonna wonder why the reader skidded to a stop in the slums just south of Nirvana? Here are a couple of reasons:

  1. The reader’s just too f**king lazy to keep a steady pressure to the end. He started out with energy and verve, but those last five seconds were a killer!
  2. The reader actually has a standard scale from mediocrity to excellence. I have nothing but praise for these people, as long as they use the same scale on all posts. And if they don’t? Hell, I don’t know. But they do! They know, and that’s good enough for me.

The almighty fifty claps

We all have felt the glory of 50 claps. Nothing more need be said. Except, why?

  1. The reader is afraid of offending anyone.
  2. Tit-for-tat exchanges.
  3. The writing is truly exceptional.
  4. The reader fully, consciously, unwaveringly accepts the psychological validity that we all need applause. Therefore, he/she fulfills that need by crowning each and every story with 50 claps.

And that, my friends, is a wrap on this end!

I thank you for reading, for highlighting, and for helping me validate my belief in myself.

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