Friday, January 27, 2023

The Enshittification of All Things

Cory Doctorow:

Here is how platforms die: first, they are good to their users; then they abuse their users to make things better for their business customers; finally, they abuse those business customers to claw back all the value for themselves. Then, they die.

I call this enshittification, and it is a seemingly inevitable consequence arising from the combination of the ease of changing how a platform allocates value, combined with the nature of a “two sided market,” where a platform sits between buyers and sellers, hold each hostage to the other, raking off an ever-larger share of the value that passes between them.


This is enshittification: surpluses are first directed to users; then, once they’re locked in, surpluses go to suppliers; then once they’re locked in, the surplus is handed to shareholders and the platform becomes a useless pile of shit. From mobile app stores to Steam, from Facebook to Twitter, this is the enshittification lifecycle.


These videos go into Tiktok users’ ForYou feeds, which Tiktok misleadingly describes as being populated by videos “ranked by an algorithm that predicts your interests based on your behavior in the app.” In reality, For You is only sometimes composed of videos that Tiktok thinks will add value to your experience – the rest of the time, it’s full of videos that Tiktok has inserted in order to make creators think that Tiktok is a great place to reach an audience.

Mike Masnick (via Old Unix Geek, Jason Kottke):

We recently wrote about Cory Doctorow’s great article on how the “enshittification” of social media (mainly Facebook and Twitter) was helping to lower the “switching costs” for people to try something new.


And this, quite frequently, leads to the process that Cory lays out in his enshittification gravity well. Because once you’ve gone public, even if you have executives who still want to focus on pleasing users and customers, eventually any public company is also going to have other executives, often with Wall Street experience, who talk about the importance of keeping Wall Street happy.


But one of the major problems with this that I’ve discussed for years is that even if you believe (ridiculously) that your only goal is to increase profits for shareholders, that leaves out one very important variable: over what time frame?


For years, Tim O’Reilly has (correctly) argued that good companies should “create more value than they capture.” The idea here is pretty straightforward: if you have a surplus, and you share more of it with others (users and partners) that’s actually better for your long term viability, as there’s more and more of a reason for those users, partners, customers, etc. to keep doing business with you.


This is one of the reasons that both Cory and I keep talking about the importance of interoperability. It not only allows users to break out of silos where this is happening, but it helps combat the enshittification process. It forces companies to remain focused on providing value and surplus, to their users, rather than chasing Wall Street’s latest demands.

Eric Schwarz:

It’s a bit depressing because I can make a list of web sites, stores, services, etc. that I can go back and say, “Man, remember when x was good? I miss that.”

Michael Simmons:

Spotify is a vastly superior experience to Apple Music, which shows Apple doesn’t need to innovate their services and can rely on a user base that believes anything “Apple” is superior even when it’s not. Apple Music’s slow performance and lack of device handoff says it all.


Update (2023-07-06): Future Tense (via Hacker News):

Amazon now feels more like a racket than an open shopping platform; you can’t find posts from your friends on Facebook because it’s clogged with unsolicited advertising; and Uber no longer seems like a cool, efficient taxi service, it’s morphed instead into a global machine for turning gig workers into the new underclass – it’s all part of a process Cory Doctorow has dubbed “enshittification”.

In this feature interview, the Canadian sci-fi author, journalist and digital rights activist explains why the digital world seems so exploitative and tawdry. But he has optimism for how things might be improved in the future.

21 Comments RSS · Twitter · Mastodon

Etsy comes to mind. Also eBay.

Enshittification belongs in Webster's.

That Simmons twitter thread is hilarious. Never liked the Spotify experience myself and Apple Music curated playlists are far superior in my opinion. And no offense to Simmons but if Apple Music is a turd then Spotify is a vastly superior turd, but a turd nonetheless.

I mean I get the sentiment but I don't think using the example of "Amazon no longer runs at a loss" as the most compelling example. Startup costs are huge for such a logistics behemoth, that every established company was trying to squash for years.

> Individual product managers, executives, and activist shareholders all give preference to quick returns at the cost of sustainability, and are in a race to see who can eat their seed-corn first.

Like, this doesn't even make sense given Amazon took *two decades* of shareholder goodwill to turn on the money printer right?

True, I am annoyed by the way Amazon feels overrun by crap products at times, and consider dropping Prime all the time FWIW in favor of just shopping at Target. And yet I don't because it still does a lot of things really really conveniently for me in a way few others do, including delivery in like 4 hours now.

I guess I just generally tire of yet another rose-tinted-glasses view of things what we think was before, and the taken-for-granted perspective that shareholders and customers are inherently opposed to one another and something nefarious must be afoot all around us. Businesses make money pleasing customers (we are all Apple fans of many years right?). When tech companies are pleasing us less, we are in realtime going elsewhere (whether Mastodon or TikTok to begin with)

Steam is bad? Ok yeah the Mac version given Apple guns for Valve and changed the architecture on years of x86 titles. But the PC version is not and now Linux has better compatibility than ever and we get Steam Decks. Apple Musics web views suck and are always bugging out on me, and as Apple has grown its gotten less consistent but its still generally very good and I love the hell out of my 14" M1 Pro.

Sure, Ad businesses annoy me and Instagram is definitely not what I wish it was, but I think by and large most things do get better. I mean, just the other day Apple Maps (yeah, the shittier one!) detoured me and saved me from going into a massive highway backup that'd have caused me to miss my train entirely. Google Maps is even more amazing when searching for nearly anything these days.

Can things be better? Sure, but damn if my mom doesn't still get a huge amount of value connecting with all her friends on Facebook even though I pretty much left the platform in like 2014 myself. I feel like this piece should instead just be "Ad-based things tend to really suck" but that was always true whether network TV since inception and things now but they are generally not our only option either.

I don't feel compelled to use many ad-based products, and I think for the most part I'm able to avoid them pretty easily. Apple, Netflix, and Amazon don't have them at all and Hulu just wants an extra $6 a month to banish them. I just moved and IG's ads are so creepily relevant despite turning off third party tracking, I don't know whether to be appreciative or annoyed.

And if Twitter getting shittier (which, mostly has just affected the way my tech follows have bifurcated now and the rest seems mostly the same) that is part of the process of kickstarting ActivityPub getting going already. The system works!

Microsoft, the old fart that it is, is pouring money into ChatGPT and we might even get a Bing that rules and the first Google competitor in a long time. It just seems like it's working a lot better than people are willing to admit, because things are generally so good we have little left but to complain anymore.

"Everything's (mostly very) amazing and nobody's happy" is still mostly on point IMO.

Now please excuse me, while I go roll the dice whether my AppleTV remote will actually turn on my TV or not :)

Old Unix Geek

I see a lot of enshittification...

Apple enshittification:

- App Store will be run at cost says Jobs. Now it's a profit center.

- App Store provides "security", aka control of what you can get as determined by Apple.

- For "your security", we throw away tons of brand new computers that involved serious ecological damage to create.

Amazon enshittification:

- my emails don't tell me what I bought

- they're getting rid of smile

- stories about them simply throwing stuff away if returned

- stories about them treating their delivery staff badly

- stories about them treating their picking staff badly (an article about it being worse than mining from the UK for instance)

- stories about them helping out with the national security state, and the military.

Google enshittification:

- worse search that you can't work around

- google maps slower, working less well

- spam detection failing more often (both false positives and false negatives).

News enshittification

- To quote the CEO of CBS: Trump is bad for America but great for our revenues.

- People who truly believe the postmodernist crap of there being no objective reality suddenly running the show. Just 2 examples I happened to run into today: the Pfizer mRNA research executive who thinks redefining gain of function as directed evolution means it's not a crime; this fellow who literally argues there is no glass holding water, and therefore thinks he can navigate around some law or the other in Georgia.

- The fact the DHS/FBI worked to censor Twitter

- The fact that the US media believed the Hamilton 68 project, which identified "Russian Bots", aka people they disagreed with.

Enshittification due to ChatGPT

- more people who can't think clearly or write clearly getting jobs

- more code written by people who don't know what they are doing

- more utter nonsense that looks 100% real.

I could go on.

The videogame business.

Used to be about making the best game, now it's about loot boxes and season passes.

But, there is hope.

Go to YouTube and search for WotC OGL. It's truly heartwarming.

Hasbro decided to shaft companies and individuals who had used their Open Gaming License. The community organised, Hasbro backed down

"Then, they die."? That seems to be a foregone conclusion, doesn’t it? What are the examples for that? It seems much more likely that it’s just how the world ends up.

Old Unix Geek: Are you familiar with Project Veritas (your "argues there is no glass holding water" link)?

Old Unix Geek

@Alexander: No, not particularly, but since the guy literally says that, it would be rather hard for this to be "missing context", or some other excuse: a glass filled with water is just that, and arguing it isn't is not subtle, intelligent, or anything else. It's just idiotic. There is an objective reality, as every engineer who has to deal with it to make a functioning tool knows, because reality constantly corrects one.

Honestly, complaining about enshittification, then linking to Project Veritas, then admitting that you don't know what they do, reminds me of something about people living in glass houses.

Also: "this fellow who literally argues there is no glass holding water" - not what he did. He points out that you don't have to call a glass of water a glass of water, you can also use other names to describe it, in the context of arguing against the position that words have unique, clearly understood meanings, and things have unique, clearly understood names, and arguing for the position that different people interpret the same words in different ways, or use different words to describe things.

He didn't pick the glass of water as an analogy, the other guy did, and he went along with it. It's a poor analogy, but your description of what he said is either made in bad faith, or based on a misunderstanding that could have been avoided with even the smallest amount of consideration for what this guy is actually saying.


No, his argument was that he did not need to follow Georgia law because he could "navigate" around it by teaching "critical race theory" by another name, and therefore supposedly not violate Georgia's law.

I neither support not reject Georgia's law, since I don't know what it says, but purposefully violating that law by renaming things is quite an extraordinary thing to do. And this kind of argument seems to me to be another form of enshittification: a company violating the interests of its customers (the state of Georgia) by selling products (class materials) that violate the laws of the state of Georgia to benefit some other entity (in this case some ideology). How he thought he wouldn't get caught truly astounds me.

Since calling things by different names to violate the law is the context, this is not simply saying that things can be called by different names, which seems to be your argument. That is a very old observation, and is at this point quite banal. To quote Shakespeare, "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet".

What's new is that people seem to think that reality is subjective, and they can use that to get whatever they want. Well no. Objective reality exists. Every bug is a proof of the existence of objective reality.

Given the harping on about "Project Veritas" here, it seems that many people believe one can only trust media sources that are politically aligned with them. That's an example of the ad-hominem fallacy, and is bad thinking. One should consider what is said on its own merits. The arguments matter, not the people delivering them.

Since people seem to consider it so important to know who project Veritas is, I decided to look it up on wikipedia, which asserts without evidence it's a "far right" organization.

To me, a far right organization would be ultra-nationalist, nativist, authoritarian, and radically conservative. No evidence was provided that it is any of the first three. I could see that one might be able to argue that it is conservative if it doesn't like "critical race theory". But in that case, there are plenty of communist conservatives too, and they wouldn't be far right. So if you actually have evidence that it holds far right beliefs, and if you provide it, I might have a look at it.

However I don't have the time to do a full investigation of Project Veritas myself, just because people don't seem to like it. So I'm left to conclude that Project Veritas is something that "all right thinking people shun" because they were told to shun it by their peers.

Well, I've never done things just because everyone one else does them. Instead, I will continue looking at the merits of each argument that interests me, because that is what civilized citizens do in democracies that are not descending into polarized civil-wars.

> Given the harping on about "Project Veritas" here, it seems that many people believe one can only trust media sources that are politically aligned with them.

For me, it's more that their specialty is entrapment. Not a fan of that from any groups of any stripe.

Old Unix Geek


Yes, I don't like that aspect of it either. Sometimes it may turn out to be the lesser of two evils, for instance if it fixes a real problem, but the method is still nasty.

"his argument was that he did not need to follow Georgia law because he could "navigate" around it by teaching "critical race theory" by another name"

Again, this is misrepresenting what the actual argument is. The issue is that "critical race theory" means different things to different people, because it went from being a niche academic topic to some kind of political hobgoblin. The people who actually work on CRT, and the people who yell at it from podiums, are talking about two very different things.

And, again, it's odd to me that you complain about enshittification, but then just don't bother to even read what the law actually says, but still post misinformed takes on the whole issue. YOU are the source of enshittification.

"many people believe one can only trust media sources that are politically aligned with them"

It's very clear that you are intentionally misinterpreting what people here are saying. This is a group that has repeatedly released deceptively edited videos in order to make points that are unsupported by the actual evidence they have collected, so to then rely on videos released by this group to make your points (and repeatedly insisting that you aren't interested in any additional research) is just another example of enshittification.

I should also add that your take on Hamilton 68 is just plain wrong. They very specifically explained how they categorized Twitter accounts as Russian bots, and it's super obvious to any minimally reasonable person that their approach would necessarily create both false positives and false negatives. After all, if it was trivial to identify bots, Twitter would do it and just remove these accounts.

Does the fact that they falsely categorized some real accounts as bots mean that their numbers are way off? Who knows, but it's not particularly compelling evidence, because from the very beginning, they pointed out that their methodology would falsely categorize some real accounts as bots.

Again, this is something you could have found out with two minutes of research, but instead, you just posted your misinformation here.

"I don't have the time to do a full investigation of Project Veritas myself"

If you can't even be bothered to do the most basic research about the things you post, and obviously haven't paid any attention during the past decade to anything that happened at all, since this is the first time you hear about this group, why in the world do you think you're the arbiter of enshittifcation? You're the source of it! By your own description of how you arrived at your conclusions, you're exactly the kind of uninformed consumer who puts no effort into understanding anything at all, and then just regurgitates the first bit of information that matches his predetermined belief. You're one step removed from complaining about actual demons inhabiting politicians and linking to Alex Jones as your source.

Since you're obviously a victim of motivated reasoning in multiple of the points you've brought up, I would encourage you to apply your critical eye that you previously cast on us on yourself, and your own approach to how you determine what the factual truth is. Because when you say things like "it seems that many people believe one can only trust media sources that are politically aligned with them", that seems to reveal much more about *your* approach than about anyone else's.

@Plume It seems as though Hamilton 68 started explaining this differently after the release of the Twitter file. The earlier wording makes it sound like they had verified the list, and this was the way the media reported on it at the time. They assumed that it was legit, and it was secret so they couldn’t try to verify it independently, yet it was treated as authoritative.

But I don’t think this or most of what you and Old Unix Geek are arguing about is related to enshittification as explained by Doctorow. I hope it doesn’t become a general term for things we don’t like or stuff that doesn’t work well.

Old Unix Geek

Ok Plume, whatever.

Yes, Michael, that's my understanding too about Hamilton 68.

>I hope it doesn’t become a general term for things we don’t like or stuff that doesn’t work well.


(I would argue Doctorow's choice of word is part of the problem. It sounds like _any_ process by which products gradually get worse, whereas he's describing _a particular_ process by which products become less appealing to users, then also less appealing to businesses, and thus ultimately to anyone, leading to inevitable death.)

I think a lot of Doctorow's points are on target, and many of them can be generalized to any business where the end-user is not the customer.

Evernote's recent acquisition by a mobile software publisher seems to have flown under a lot of people's radar screens. I can't help but wonder about the likelihood of user-hostile changes to the platform coming soon.

FWIW, I use a few note taking apps in business and personal contexts, and I still prefer Evernote for my personal use. Nonetheless, I plan to export my data from Evernote more frequently just in case the new owner decides to remove that feature.

@josehill And if you ever need to convert your Evernote data to an open format (RTF files with macOS tags), you can do that by importing into EagleFiler.

Leave a Comment