Enshittification - Cory Doctorow

I thought this essay from Cory Doctorow captured the essence of technology companies today.

I’ve personally experienced the decrease in quality on the major platforms over time: where simple things like search results have gone from magical to baffling.

I also learned a bit more about the relationship between Facebook and online journalism. Doctorow’s explanation went beyond advertising revenue and talked about the strategy which made the news dependent on Facebook: a fact which has real-world consequences.

Finally, the conclusion I drew from the essay was that making oddly specific guarantees is not as crazy as it sounds. If I guaranteed that my users would see the content they subscribe to, that might not make much sense until you read the essay and see how Facebook and other companies make money by not doing that. I would also guarantee to business partners that I’m not using a honeymoon algorithm to lure them to my platform. And, I won’t hold their customers for ransom: extorting a fee or refusing to allow interoperability. That’s part of the end-to-end principle mentioned in the essay.



Think of enshittification as the digital equivalent of entropy. In a closed system (eg monopolised market) both increase.

Let’s not be fooled however by the so-called “link tax” moves in Australia, and now Canada. Old media also practised enshittification of content and ads, back when it was more dominant. In the 2000s they lost to new media because of their massively highly ad rates, and failure to adapt. “Link tax” moves are, in my mind, a game being played between the old enshittifiers and the new enshittifiers. With governments in the middle, and almost wholely ignorant of the game that is being played. If publishers suceed they will become even more dependent on Big Tech for money. Meanwhile both are trying to win over governments to their case, with selected stories that outrage you, lobbying and funding of think-tanks and NGOs.

Overall consumers and small business are the losers unless, and until, the monopolies are tackled effectively. Then enshittification (entropy) might decrease in a fairer parts of the market (system).