Cory Doctorow: The Enshittification of platforms

Good lengthy read on the enshittification of Twitter and other platforms like TikTok, Amazon, Facebook and others.

I shared it on the Felon Musk thread but think it deserves more discussion in its own thread.

I love when Cory rants. This is a good one and oh-so true.

I agree with the major points…but this should also not surprise anyone. The whole reason why tech gets the big investments in the first place is because everyone is hoping that they would be successful enough to be able to monetize the services enough that everyone will make bank.

Of course, they’re hoping to do so w/o losing all the users so it’s to be seen how successful Twitter will be on that spectrum.

I find a minor fault with his thesis that some of these platforms were good to begin with. Amazon set out to make bookstores obsolete so I don’t know.

Great read!

The idealist in me hopes that even if the US government finds it tough to gain regulatory traction, maybe conditions are ripe for tech worker unions to fill in some gaps.

There are lots of smart, organization-minded professionals aware of their own value to platform investors, aware of the unnecessity and cruelty of recent layoffs, and well aware of the enshittification process and its exponential dangers. Bargaining power as the necessary labor force might provide enough friction to enact some of Doctorow’s proposed protections.

That’s fair, but each of these platforms had a kernel of something valuable to me on their face. Provided for poisonous reasons, sure, but something that genuinely made my life better and appeared sustainable.

This is why - even though it makes my day job harder - I love the GDPR. All of those provisions - but especially Article 20 (Right to Data Portability) need to be strengthened and then applied like a sledge hammer to Google, Twitter, Facebook et al until they give up our data.

Yeah, I don’t think his argument is that any of the businesses he cites as examples are (or were) inherently “good,” but rather that their success grew initially from being extremely consumer-friendly. In the case of Amazon, it achieved this with little concern for profitability because of access to tons of capital, and us greedy consumers were loving the cheap prices, free or near-free shipping, and sit-on-the-couch convenience.

I liked the article (as much as I can like something so depressing). I do think part of the problem, maybe a big part, is us. We want variety, low prices, convenience–the Dead Kennedy’s were on to something when they called their album Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death, after all. Theoretically you could regulate these companies in such a way as to eliminate a lot of the abuses, but the cost would be less of everything for consumers I think. Again, not saying that would be necessarily a bad thing, but human history does not offer up a plethora of examples of societies voluntarily limiting their consumption when they have the material means to go hog wild.

You could rename the article “Why monopolies are bad”. It’s not something specific to tech, it follows a specific path in tech, sure, but other industries also have similar trajectories, they just have a different road towards being a monopoly.

True, though the digital world has its own particular characteristics that arguably set it apart from, say, something like having one maker of microwave ovens or something.

New follow-up article today:

That’s the old link without the # anchor link to the article. I don’t see a new follow-up?

I kind of think this should be in the Everything Else forum, as it impacts just about everything.

Per his Amazon example, I’m really seeing it in Amazon Music lately.

Back in the day, Amazon Music allowed you to pay $25/year to upload 250k songs of your own to your personal mp3 library. They also automatically added every album you had ever bought on Amazon that they had mp3s of, which didn’t count against your 250k songs, they also allowed you to add free albums and songs to your library, and still upload your rips of physical media.

Then they killed the $25/yr program as well as the upload function, but at least let you keep and listen to your already uploaded library
Then they stopped adding auto-rip to your library for most physical purchases
Then they added start up ads for Amazon Music subscriptions (on top of Prime) to the Amazon Music app on phones (or at least Android)
They also shut down a lot of the free albums and songs for Prime subscribers
They did add some curated/algorithm-generated playlists which were kind of cool for finding new music and podcasts, etc.
Then they started adding “similar” songs to your own playlists, or artist plays (aka ads for new music).
Then they removed the ability to just shuffle your library or searches and force you to start a song from a list before shuffling, while also adding ads.

What’s next in the enshittificaiton? I don’t know. I’m looking at getting Plex music running on my phone from my NAS Server.

All value is being lost to the push to make Amazon Music into Spotify where only subscriptions are allowed, and the subscription price can be jacked constantly… just buying things to own them is discouraged…

Fortunately it’s still possible to just buy music, even if the corps I’m sure would simply love to make it so you can’t.

I buy LPs/CDs and rip them to listen to wherever I want.

The major streaming platforms now pay artists around 0.3 cents per stream, which is not nearly enough to make a living, even for relatively popular artists. Of course, they’re all too happy to point out that Drake has 55 billion downloads, so he’s rich, it’s not the platform’s fault these artists just need to be more popular right?

Music streaming platforms have groomed us to expect access to nearly all the music ever recorded for something around $200 per year. That’s insane. They have so devalued music in people’s minds that I don’t know how the industry recovers.

I’m also suspicious of any business model where the company makes more money when people use their business less. The perfect customer for Spotify is someone who signs up, pays their subscription fee reliably, but listens to very little music (thus requiring them to pay out very little in royalties).

Related to this is Barnes & Noble’s recent resurgence, which swims upstream against all of this and is in many respects counter-intuitive. I highly recommend reading music critic Ted Gioia’s article on what Barnes & Noble’s recent success may suggest for the future:

Good article, thanks! Maybe a CEO can make a difference after all. I might have to go check out our local B&N again.

I swung by my B&N not too long ago. And they completely rearranged it. Really threw me for a loop because I used to work in that Barnes & Noble and its configuration had been unchanged for decades. They also had done some work to spruce up and repaint the exterior. But it did seem to have a decent amount of people in it for a weekday.

Napster did that. Even if iTunes was technically a better financial deal for artists than Spotify, the one-way road to ubiquity and convenience had already been paved at the turn of the century.

Today album sales are more like merch. You buy them to support the artist, which is something you should definitely do, especially at the local level. But as for listening? If it weren’t Spotify, it would be YouTube, and if it weren’t legal, it would be piracy. There’s no sticking that cork back in the bottle.

This is one reason why the end of Google Play Music pissed me off, as it was the easiest way to purchase music on my phone. YTM is subscription only.