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.
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.
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.”
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.