Enshittification
January 21, 2023 8:58 PM   Subscribe

 
Metafilter: just another paperclip-maximizing artificial colony organism that treats human beings as inconvenient gut flora
posted by intermod at 9:19 PM on January 21 [21 favorites]


This was a good read, thanks! A well-written encapsulation of some very familiar dynamics. E.g.:
After all, every time Tiktok shows you a video you asked to see, it loses a chance to show you a video it wants you to see, because your attention is a giant teddy-bear it can give away to a performer it is wooing.
posted by Not A Thing at 9:29 PM on January 21 [16 favorites]


[...] that every dollar we spent on media was a dollar we'd have to give up if we deleted Amazon and its apps.

That is why when someone called Apple's hardware and software "ecosystem" an Apple "plantation" it just felt right to say.
posted by NoThisIsPatrick at 9:38 PM on January 21 [4 favorites]


I was amused that
"Monetize" is a terrible word that tacitly admits that there is no such thing as an "Attention Economy." You can't use attention as a medium of exchange. You can't use it as a store of value.
came from the author of Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom (where that essentially IS the medium of exchange.)
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 9:41 PM on January 21 [25 favorites]


Metafilter: the only website that has not succumbed to the "trickery and coercion" of enshittified monetization.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 9:48 PM on January 21 [9 favorites]


I remember an exchange with a friend of mine back in the early 1990s while we were both probably reading Wired. We were talking about how the internet would change everything, and I said something about how it was going to be coopted by capital and never live up to the promise it had because that's what happens to everything good. I so didn't want to be proven correct.
posted by mollweide at 9:50 PM on January 21 [60 favorites]


Really interesting, thanks for posting! This was great:
Enshittification has only lasted for as long as it has because the internet has devolved into "five giant websites, each filled with screenshots of the other four"
posted by team lowkey at 10:20 PM on January 21 [45 favorites]


Um, this is just econ 101, recapitulated in Cory's signature style.
Once you understand the enshittification pattern, a lot of the platform mysteries solve themselves.
None of this is a mystery to anyone who has read Schumpeter or the WSJ or, heck, the NYT. Buying users or buying attention is a classic investment by investors. It is only naive users who thought - for example - that Uber's VC-funded cheap rides could last forever, or that YouTube or TikTok would be a magical space for unbridled individual expression for very long.
posted by twsf at 10:26 PM on January 21 [8 favorites]


this is just econ 101

obligatory Onion Talk
posted by flabdablet at 10:29 PM on January 21 [21 favorites]


Well I can confirm that Boing Boing has gotten a lot worse since he left. Auto-playing videos with sound. More posts that are just selling a product. I use the rss feed but if I accidentally close a BB story that I had wanted to read going to the site and trying to find it is a nightmare. Some stuff is still interesting but not as often as when he was editor.
posted by downtohisturtles at 10:52 PM on January 21 [28 favorites]



Teeque Tocque
posted by mmrtnt at 11:15 PM on January 21 [4 favorites]


"[...] making you pay $2.99 extra to see the "From:" line on email before you opened the message – charging you to know who was speaking before you started listening – but they didn't."

Dear sweetness that is nightmare fuel. Why did he post that out loud ?
posted by NoThisIsPatrick at 11:25 PM on January 21 [31 favorites]


MeFi: a magical space for unbridled individual expression
posted by fairmettle at 11:36 PM on January 21 [8 favorites]


Metafilter: the only website that has not succumbed to the "trickery and coercion" of enshittified monetization

No, there is also https://www.dreamwidth.org/

which gets its modest revenue from voluntary user contributions.
posted by chariot pulled by cassowaries at 12:05 AM on January 22 [16 favorites]


As MeFi’s recent funding drive has shown, it’s tough to run a popular website when you’re not a large corporation. I think boingboing made some choices earlier on and it’s now led them to the point where their website is confusing and extremely capitalist.
posted by The River Ivel at 12:09 AM on January 22 [11 favorites]


If the ways we find and interact with each other are allowed to all become privately owned toll roads driven by financialization, this is what you get it is inevitable.

If we want it to be otherwise, we have to assert that space is a commons and pass laws to protect that status and likely publicly fund some infrastructure
posted by allium cepa at 12:10 AM on January 22 [9 favorites]


He left out the flip side of the coin: sites attract shitty users. The bad people show up eventually, or in some cases are there first, and well, shitty finds a way. Yes, a lot of the blame can be laid at corps feet, but there are some genuinely horrible people out there just waiting for the chance to get filthy in your face.
posted by JustSayNoDawg at 12:13 AM on January 22 [27 favorites]


There are some genuinely horrible people out there just waiting for the chance to get filthy in your face.

It was always thus online, even in the BBS days.
posted by ptfe at 12:31 AM on January 22 [16 favorites]


And those people bring a lot of people like them, and drive up engagement and anger clicks from existing userbases.
posted by Braeburn at 12:50 AM on January 22 [3 favorites]


At first anyway, in theory eventually they drive out 'non-antagoniatic' viewers, but that didn't make people leave Twitter and it didn't make people leave Reddit.
posted by Braeburn at 12:51 AM on January 22


What’s the remedy? How can we deshittify big tech?
posted by interogative mood at 2:22 AM on January 22 [3 favorites]


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.

Perhaps Amazon is enshittified, but would you describe it as dying?
posted by Going To Maine at 2:52 AM on January 22 [6 favorites]


No matter how enshittified and untrustworthy product searches on Amazon have become, the one thing it reliably delivers on is getting whatever crap you order into your hands in a day or two. As long as it keeps that up, it won't die as the only real competition for near-instantaneous gratification are bricks-and-mortar stores.

But my goodness do I ever hate wading through Amazon searches that deliver 99% crap.
posted by fimbulvetr at 3:48 AM on January 22 [20 favorites]


I do know more and more people who refuse to buy from Amazon, or at least only use them as a last resort. And this is only very recent econ 101. Used to be, econ 101 would say, there's no way Amazon can last long enough selling everything at a loss to capture a big enough market to start turning a profit. It just doesn't make sense for people to keep shoveling money into a business whose plan is to keep losing money. Turns out the idiots were right and we live in their world now.
posted by rikschell at 4:20 AM on January 22 [11 favorites]


I will look for any alternative before buying on Amazon, including local stores. The problem is, Amazon and internet shopping in general has killed a lot of local specialty stores and diminished selection in local stores. Sometimes unless I'm willing to pay crazy shipping and importation fees to buy online elsewhere and wait weeks to months to get something, Amazon it is.
posted by fimbulvetr at 4:31 AM on January 22 [10 favorites]


Econ 101 always discusses economies of scale. Amazon has been turning a profit since its sixth year in business, back in 2002.
posted by twsf at 4:38 AM on January 22 [4 favorites]


Economies of scale is one thing, but in the late nineties it seemed absurd for a company to be allowed to lose hundreds of millions of dollars for years in search of it. It was an insane proposition until it suddenly wasn't.
posted by rikschell at 4:43 AM on January 22 [3 favorites]


It really seems like paid search (e.g. Kagi) is going to be the only way to get search results that contain what you want versus what Google and the like want to show you. But it won't be cheap and the vast majority will avoid it for just that reason, regardless of how much better it would be.
posted by tommasz at 5:13 AM on January 22 [1 favorite]


If you achieve monopoly status, becoming shitty didn't mean dying, see AT&T in the 60's and 70's. Amazon is a near monopoly now.

I enjoyed the rant, but I wished he'd pointed out that this is not just a tech thing but all growth-for-growth's-sake capitalism.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 5:55 AM on January 22 [21 favorites]


I know it's easy to shit on Facebook because the business decisions are so bad and Mark Zuckerberg is so personally unappealing... but was there ever a time where it contained vital information? I remember it being mostly friends' vacation or family photos, combined with the occasional meme or rant. You could look up your exes and see if they had gotten dumpy or try to flirt with them. It was never some great venue of personal expression and the monetization was actually helpful in a few ways, and would be more so if Facebook didn't have atrocious UX.

SEO and the fall of Google is more interesting--remember when you could search and someone's personal blog would show up? Do blogs even still exist?
posted by kingdead at 5:57 AM on January 22 [6 favorites]


If you’re a parent of a special needs kid or doing work at the local school level Facebook is still where it’s at. I realize NextDoor is also a thing but in my neighbourhood Facebook is where we organized our lockdown food drive, parents participated in our PARC (school capacity/decommissioning/zoning process), and where you find out Ms. Smith is the teacher that can’t teach reading in grade one so if your child isn’t reading yet, request the other teacher.
posted by warriorqueen at 6:07 AM on January 22 [15 favorites]


..."the one thing it reliably delivers on is getting whatever crap you order into your hands in a day or two. "

When I quit Prime, I realized that nothing I ever ordered from Amazon actually needed to be here in a day or two. I never trusted "free" 2-day shipping. If I absolutely, positively had to have something. I went to Target or Home Depot or wherever. And now Amazon regularly quotes me 5-day delivery, which is fine, and then the stuff often shows up in two days anyway.
posted by COD at 6:15 AM on January 22 [7 favorites]


I didn't come in here to insult Cory, much as I want to, I wanted to say: of course we can have nice things on the internet, we just have to pay for them ourselves. Whenever we start thingking someone else should foot the bill, that is when the capitalists will swoop in and start making it happen, though of course ultimately we still end up paying the bill, except it's much higher for a much poorer user experience because of all the rentier/profit-taking/middlemen.
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:39 AM on January 22 [28 favorites]


Amazon is profitable because AWS is wildly profitable. AWS is profitable for a bunch of reasons, one of which is that they make it REALLY easy to spend money on resources that you aren’t actually using- e.g. a big server that you spun up for an experiment but then didn’t turn off. They can sell that idle virtual processing power over and over again. Enshittification knows no bounds.
posted by rockindata at 6:41 AM on January 22 [20 favorites]


I think seanmpuckett's point is especially poignant, because Cory's spent 20+ years telling content-creators to give their work away for free.

He was an influential voice who helped us to get to the shitty place that he's now complaining about.
posted by schmod at 6:43 AM on January 22 [36 favorites]



I try not to buy from Amazon but I do use them. I search them for things I want and when I find a make/model of something, I plug that into Google General Search and then Shopping and look for it from non-Amazon suppliers. I also use them for reviews, specs and their (usually) superior photos of things.

I've also found that it's better to search for places on Google Maps, rather than Google proper because the enfecenation of Maps has not kept pace with the rest of search.

Another thing to try when searching is incognito (Chrome) or private (Firefox) windows which - supposedly - know little about you and force Amazon or Google to treat you as a new visitor.
posted by mmrtnt at 7:13 AM on January 22 [2 favorites]


One piece I'm not sure of is whether ransomware was or is a big part of the money going into crypto, and I'm not sure there's any way to find out.

I can speak for panix (where I have my email) as a good, paid-for service. They have excellent customer service, and they occasionally double my storage space for free. There was something I didn't trust about gmail (I can't even remember what), so I kept paying panix for a public email address.
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 7:15 AM on January 22


What’s the remedy? How can we deshittify big tech?

IMO the answer is democratization. In the example of Facebook, I believe Facebook became popular because it was a extremely frictionless way to share photos and little updates with your friends and family.

For a lot of us here the idea of "oh just start a website or a Wordpress blog and put your pictures there!" sounds like a no-brainer but for most of the world this stuff is hard. But hey, here's a way to get your photos off your camera or phone and into grandma's hands. And it killed Myspace and GeoCities and the like.

For the social networking stuff like FB/TikTok/Instagram/Twitter the way to kill those giants is to put storage and distribution of content back in the hands of each user, but I think that's an impossible task because discovery and search is the key. This is kind of the uphill battle that Mastodon is facing right now.
posted by JoeZydeco at 7:44 AM on January 22 [8 favorites]


To be fair, Cory is that guy at the party is who usually *right* in his doom-porn, but is no fun at all.
posted by metametamind at 7:45 AM on January 22 [10 favorites]


There's a beauty to being able to structure a social media offering so that there's a significant uptake of premium memberships beyond advertisers.

LinkedIn is a great example. A lot of people pay $20/month or whatever it is and LinkedIn delivers them as high quality a service as they can. A lot of recruiters pay thousands a month and LinkedIn has to deliver them a really high quality of service.

Here's the virtuous circle: a big part of what premium members and recruiters are paying for is for LinkedIn to attract and retain non-premium users to be audiences for the premium members' and recruiters posts / job openings / what have you, so LinkedIn is compelled not to enshittify non-premium members' experience.
posted by MattD at 7:51 AM on January 22 [8 favorites]


Also ... my small firm would pay thousands a month for a thoroughly deshittified and customizable algorithm version of Google. We burn much more than that now on inefficient-at-best searching. I've oftened wondered if this is something Google privately sells for $10 million+ a year to big customers, or gives to big advertisers and influential friends for the kudos.
posted by MattD at 7:55 AM on January 22 [3 favorites]


Think of how US companies ended the defined benefits pension that guaranteed you a dignified retirement, replacing it with market-based 401(k) pensions that forced you to gamble your savings in a rigged casino, making you the sucker at the table, ripe for the picking ---

I never put this together. It is vile. Where can workers get what was a part of a job, not that long in the past. Government jobs. The military, which is a government job. My father worked for decades as a sheet metal worker, in Chicago and surrounding environs, which absolutely meant that he was a member of a union; my parents got a tidy sum from that retirement fund, not shopping at Nieman Marcus but driving decent cars, eating well, and good medical care also, esp when mixed in with Social Security.

The state of Illinois is broke, and, having taken all of the money paid into retirement plans which the state threw away on god knows what, those bastards are trying to take from people who worked their whole lives paying into what was to have been rock solid. I know this because a brother-in-law spent his entire life as a teacher, music and then later in his career also a lot of computer classes also -- Fred is really smart, and he really dug computers, right from the start. I don't know how that's going to end up, and neither does my brother-in-law, and my sister.

The unions began dying as I was getting into the trades, early 70's, definitely in the 80's. Remember Reagan firing the air traffic controllers? If that happened in France the whole country could have gone out, wildcat strikes. Probably if it happened in the US in the 50's or 60's, huge swaths of labor would have gone out on wildcat strikes also. Which would be the correct thing to do, IMO.

The unions did get ridiculous. Detroit got shut down all the time, for any reason or none at all. If I was on a union site working as a carpenter, and an electrician had put an electrical box on incorrectly, which I could easily fix with a screwdriver and a minutes time, if I got caught there would be *huge* repercussions, every electrician on the job jumping up and down and barking. So, what you had to do is go and find your lead man, and he would find the carpenters union rep, who would find the electrical union rep, who would get the electricians lead man, who would get an electrician to unscrew the screw, make whatever tiny adjustment was needed, let his lead man know, who would let my lead man know, and only then could I work on that piece of the job.

There are still union gigs in Chicago but only on huge projects and mostly downtown. Nowhere near the juice they had "back in the day."

Sorry for drifting off into unions etc. I just never put together the piece I led with here, what a total con job that was and is.

~~~~~

Amazon is infuriating. Absolutely set up to show you what they want to shove down your throat, no matter that you put in a perfectly descriptive search. Say you're looking for a cheapie computer, just a little garbage can laptop for simple jive. Even if you put in the brand name, and tell them to sort by price low price first, they'll throw all kinds of garbage at you, wandering down page after page of dogshit until you *maybe* can find what you're looking for. Try to exclude chromebooks -- hardy har, they'll show you chromebooks for pages and pages, and in on particular price order. They really do run a game, takes three times or more time to find what you went there looking for.

I do think that Amazon Prime is done well. Lots of great movies. I love Audible. I haven't yet found out how to strip off the DRM but surely it's not that big a deal. And if I'm willing to take the time to set it up I can find any movie and find it free; as it is now I ask a friend.....
posted by dancestoblue at 8:02 AM on January 22 [5 favorites]


This kind of business now goes well beyond the Internet. Everything quickly turns to shit because that's the current dominant business model. Find a semi-consumable product that has quality construction and design? If you don't buy a lifetime supply of it the moment you discover it you'll likely not get the same quality and design ever again because competitors will knock it off cheaper and crappier and the execs at the original company will see that they can get away with it and do the same. Then they will segment their market for the product into different price ranges for different level of crappiness, flood amazon, ebay and outlet malls with garbage and you will never again know what exactly you buying.

I feel like there are now three constant processes in our world:
1) Carcinisation - everything evolves to become a crab
2) Financialization - eventually all business eventually turn into finance firms.
3) Enshitification - all producers eventually strip-mine their reputations.
posted by srboisvert at 8:39 AM on January 22 [39 favorites]


a thoroughly deshittified and customizable algorithm version of Google

It seems to mostly just use the Google API, but you may find Kagi (mentioned above) worth looking into. It's mostly deshittified and fairly customizable, although perhaps not quite what one would ideally like it to be. Dunno about business plans, but as an individual user I've found the deshittification to be well worth $10 a month.
posted by Not A Thing at 8:54 AM on January 22 [3 favorites]


I was such an optimist when the World Wide Web was new in the early 1990s. That neoliberal boom time of the Clinton age when crypto was about trust, data privacy and security; not some buzzword for a ponzi scheme. That small things loosely joined would topple the old monopolies of technology, that it really could be the year of Linux on the desktop. That we could build a marketplace of ideas and the best ideas would rise to the top and we’d see the world moving towards knowledge and progress. Cory was a prophet and visionary. Now here we are 30 years later and I’m staring down middle age looking at how we built a huge mountain of new bullshit to replace the old. Will this be our legacy?
posted by interogative mood at 8:59 AM on January 22 [9 favorites]


What’s the remedy? How can we deshittify big tech?
posted by interogative mood at 2:22 AM on January 22 [+] [!]


Break up the monopolies.

In the end, sites like metafilter will not survive unless Facebook et al are broken by the power of the EU, China, and/or the United States government. As it is, communities have to dance to avoid being crushed under the FANG boot by accident--wait until some idiot VP figures out that metafilter is cutting into their money--as is happening to Dnd right now.

It's naive to believe is that we can escape to metafilter or our isolationist commune; enshittified companies are going to use the power of the state to end alternatives to their business models.

The alternative to that is to use the state to break up the corporations before they really come for us. Right now, metafilter is merely struggling in this environment. Right now, there's still a chance to mobilize an existing organization. If we wait longer, it will worsen.

Remember the back to the land movement? Co-op grocery stores? All of that gets eaten by market capitalism. As a matter of fact, I think all of that is owned by Amazon now.
posted by eustatic at 9:00 AM on January 22 [12 favorites]


Absolutely set up to show you what they want to shove down your throat, no matter that you put in a perfectly descriptive search.

The thing that drives me batty is they insist on showing me items that aren't in my country and will charge import fees. Even if I select prime items only and the items aren't prime (but offer "free" shipping, I think). I've seen it occur even when trying ti purchase stuff made in my country.

That and the intentional bad results. Search for say Melnor and get 3 pages of sprinkler stuff by other companies before the first Melnor result.
posted by Mitheral at 9:34 AM on January 22 [2 favorites]


Now here we are 30 years later and I’m staring down middle age looking at how we built a huge mountain of new bullshit to replace the old. Will this be our legacy?

if you're lucky
posted by lalochezia at 9:45 AM on January 22 [1 favorite]


This essay linked in the FPP is worth a read.
posted by TedW at 10:16 AM on January 22 [5 favorites]


Parts of Amazon Prime have started enshittifying - Music for example. The experience there has been:

1: Sorry but the song you searched for is only available as part of Unlimited;
2: You used to be able to play that song but you’ve asked for it too much, so it’s on Unlimited for now, but eventually we might put it back;
3 (today): You searched for a song so we’re going to play you other songs instead that we choose for you.
posted by clicking the 'Post Comment' button at 10:26 AM on January 22 [6 favorites]


One thing that people don't realize is that it's hard to reach a steady-state of a website like MetaFilter has. If you want a service that has no ads, but makes enough money off of its users to keep the lights on, it's going to cost a lot more money than people would even consider paying. The only reason why it works here is the costs are relatively low compared to other sites, due to the text-only nature. Can you imagine if YouTube went to a subscription-only model? The bandwidth costs of video passed on to the users would bankrupt them.

Your eyeballs will always be worth more than you are willing to pay.
posted by Hamusutaa at 10:53 AM on January 22 [2 favorites]


I sent this to my daughter yesterday because we were having a conversation about where to get jobs now. Indeed used to work but it is well down the enshittification rabbit hole as well as being too expensive, now, for smaller employers to use. However, Indeed gobbled up all the other sites so there aren't any and Facebook et. al ate the newspapers, so there's no classified section, Craigslist is bots and scams all the way down and how, exactly, do you find a job in this economy environment? You either go to every single place's facebook page or you go door to door. As I like to say, welcome to the 21st century, much like the 19th. Get out there with a printed resume and go door to door, kid. Good luck.
posted by mygothlaundry at 11:00 AM on January 22 [14 favorites]


The thing that frustrates me about this conversation is: of course better things are possible. Better things exist. Also, free things that suck exist, and those things deny us all control over our own surroundings, and the cost of using them is that we don't know how long they'll last in their present state.

That's not a uniquely online state of affairs. I had lunch a few years back with a local political organizer who used to operate a BDSM meeting space, and part of what we talked about is how BDSM communities seriously struggle to keep regular public events going for any reasonable amount of time: there's very little money to be made in them, the risk for controversy is huge, the effort it takes is tremendous, and as a result, many of the people who are attracted to community organizing either burn out within ~4 years or they're power-hungry in ways that make them disproportionately likely to be predatory. Hobbyists rarely operate on the kind of scale that enables giant national or international communities—MetaFilter is the rare online exception, and it's burnt out two owners already—so the larger-scale you get, the likelier it is that you run into organizers who explicitly are in it for reasons of personal gain, rather than for the sake of their community.

The problem is that "communities built upon a platform" are not the same thing as "platforms that enable communities." People have built healthy, stable communities on top of virtually every social network to ever exist, no matter how corrupt or corporate; I dearly miss a couple of the groups I lost touch with after I stopped using Facebook. And if you want to create a community space, platforms exist that are built on open-source technology, operate pretty decently on mobile devices, and will likely support the size of community you'll manage to build. Forums still exist—they're just small and cozily-sized. But actual platforms are incredibly hard to make, which is why they're usually either (a) open-source projects, (b) private technologies that expect you to pay money up-front, or (c) giant venture-capital-backed projects that will enshittify at a rapid pace.

I'm genuinely curious whether modern online communities, whether it's blog-based or forum-based, are truly less common than they were in the late 90s and early 2000s, or if it's just that there are so many more people online that the old communities now feel dwarfed by the possibilities we can't help but see exist. But that's a hard thing to tabulate, and I don't think that anybody really knows the answer. You're also going to get a different answer based on where you draw that line: do groups of Substack authors and their commenters qualify? Do subreddits? If anything, the proliferation of different online mediums makes the Internet more amorphously-shaped than it was before.

None of this disagrees with what Cory says. But people were basically saying this same thing back in 2006; I bet they were saying it even earlier, with AOL and then with whatever came before AOL. They said this about TV before the Internet existed. A part of this is just a byproduct of capitalism, and a part of it is a byproduct of the sheer difficulty of creating and maintaining anything at any scale. Hell, you could take everything Cory's saying here, change a few phrases, and make this an essay about... I dunno... the steady decline in quality of Rolling Stones albums through the decades.

The reason these essays keep being written is that, well, everyone keeps finding things they like on these platforms. I don't use the TikTok app or have an account, but I find TikToks fun to watch. Twitter is a dystopian hellhole, but I find Twitter users extremely funny. Reddit is garbage, but I have Reddit-binge afternoons. Tumblr, YouTube... presumably Instagram, though I never got on board with Insta. And I think that most users simply don't care much about these platforms, don't have a chip on their shoulder about them, and migrate across the Internet as new things emerge and old things fall apart.

I guess what I'm frustrated by specifically is this tendency of "online culture writers" to talk about the medium and culture as if they're not thoroughly enmeshed in it. They adopt this lofty analytical position that masks how, on some level, they're not actually complaining as analysts—they're users griping about management, same as everyone else, and they're doing the classical rhetorical gambit of going "no, I'm talking about society!" rather than owning up to being cranks. Which, again, doesn't invalidate anything that Cory is saying here; I think I'm just at a point where I'm a little tired of reading Cory say the same thing I read Cory say twenty years ago, and already thought was kind of boring then. I'm far more interested in the people who are creating interesting online cultures, because those people exist, they're inspiring, and they don't get written about nearly as much. (Jon Bois and Secret Base comes to mind; Defector is obviously a MeFi favorite at this point. Some Twitch streamers and podcasters have great online communities. And I can't stand Discord as an app, but I hear that there are some terrific Discord groups out there these days. Oh, and MetaFilter's been up to some really neat things itself!)

The good old days didn't end, per se. We just find it hard to pull away from the bad new days, because a lot of things about the bad new days are pretty good too. Purer and less compromised alternatives exist, but fewer people use them, and therefore fewer cultural analysts write long essays about how good and/or how bad they are. I'd rather veterans like Cory promote the better Internet than endlessly dwell on the obvious banality of how bad things are bad.
posted by Tom Hanks Cannot Be Trusted at 11:03 AM on January 22 [28 favorites]


Going To Maine: Perhaps Amazon is enshittified, but would you describe it as dying?

Only if Netcraft confirms it.
posted by dr_dank at 11:35 AM on January 22 [4 favorites]


"To be fair, Cory is that guy at the party is who usually *right* in his doom-porn, but is no fun at all."

Heck. Cory is practically Pollyanna compared to Peter Watts or Metafilter's Own @cstross

The most fun in Doom Land is James Mickens imo
posted by Rev. Irreverent Revenant at 11:48 AM on January 22 [4 favorites]


Don't attempt to de-shittify Big Tech, says I.
Instead, abandon it for "small" tech.

For example, I've a mastodon account on a little server my friend runs. There's only a few hundred of us on it. We can use it to communicate with arbitrary other people on mastodon.
There is *no way to know* how many users mastodon has. Or email for that matter, or XMPP or any federated protocol in wide use. (You probably use XMPP even if you have never heard of it- it's plumbing.)

It's entirely possible that mastodon *already* has more users than Twitter (counting only humans and not bots. Pretty sure Twitter has more (mostly?) bots. But Twitter can know how many users they have (theoretically - in practice their systems are probably too broken at this point to give a useful count) because they are a big, monolithic platform.
posted by Rev. Irreverent Revenant at 11:54 AM on January 22 [6 favorites]


But my goodness do I ever hate wading through Amazon searches that deliver 99% crap.

What's interesting is that Amazon invented their "Smile" program as a way to lure people into their search ecosystem and away from Google, instead of just, you know, fixing (or repairing) their shitty search ecosystem.

They are mastering the art of being shitty enough for profit but not so shitty people walk.
posted by Ayn Marx at 11:55 AM on January 22 [3 favorites]


Parts of Amazon Prime have started enshittifying

Video as well. They used to have a great library of older "out of the vault" shows. I was watching Patrick McGoohan's Secret Agent predecessor to The Prisoner for a while. Then suddenly they moved it to something new they called IMDB TV (because of course they own IMDB) where you could still watch it, but with random commercials dropped in. I suppose if someone were to complain, they'd say it better replicates the original viewing experience or something.
posted by Naberius at 12:06 PM on January 22 [4 favorites]


Parts of Amazon Prime have started enshittifying

They did something similar with ComiXology too recently, which was a mainstay of digital comic distribution since 2014.

They have also done the same for Kindle Subscriptions (the lifeblood of many a genre fiction magazine), making it part of their Kindle Unlimited program.

Some commentary and reaction on that can be read here.
posted by Werod at 12:27 PM on January 22 [4 favorites]


The Kindle iOs app now displays an irritating auto-play advertisement in its home page. As a result of that particular invasion, this morning I suddenly realized they are perfectly capable of taking away my hundreds of ebooks any time they decide to cut and run. Plus the books that I wrote an uploaded for peopel to buy.

Oh, well.
posted by Peach at 12:31 PM on January 22 [2 favorites]


For example, I've a mastodon account on a little server my friend runs. There's only a few hundred of us on it. We can use it to communicate with arbitrary other people on mastodon.

We (the site) do this too (unofficially)!
posted by JHarris at 12:33 PM on January 22 [7 favorites]


I was watching Patrick McGoohan's Secret Agent predecessor to The Prisoner for a while. Then suddenly they moved it

It's all available on the Internet Archive, Naberius.
posted by Rash at 12:38 PM on January 22 [4 favorites]


Ebooks.com is where I went after I left Amazon. Lots of DRM free books.

I don't buy as much stuff as I used to. It's fine. I just think about delivery people having to piss in bottles, or dying on the warehouse floor, and i don't need it as bad. Or I can wait a little longer.
posted by emjaybee at 12:58 PM on January 22 [5 favorites]


I read Doctorow's book Chokepoint Capitalism cover to cover and felt disturbed by it, but that Kindle iOS auto-play ad, more than anything else, makes me feel trapped and paranoid about what else they're going to force on my reading experience. 95% of what I read are library ebooks, and I'm generally perfectly happy with my system of downloading with my Amazon account so I can read on my phone and kindle, then send my highlights to Readwise. But I've got that same feeling as you, Peach -- this bit of enshittification is a nasty reminder that they could put that ad at the top of the screen, put ads within the book, suddenly decide to stop supporting the whole thing, or who knows what else. And there's not room for a competitor to come along and offer me a better experience because the legal restrictions on breaking Amazon's DRM mean that I couldn't transfer the books I've already bought to a new reading app.

Also, I tweeted about the Kindle ad to Cory Doctorow; I haven't logged into Twitter since Tweetbot stopped working, and yikes, talk about enshittification. To me it's completely unusable now!
posted by shirobara at 1:07 PM on January 22 [4 favorites]


shirobara - I don't feel so alone, thanks :) Somehow, that ad made me shiver. I complained. There are others complaining about it in the iOS app store and in the discussion available through the app. So far Amazon is stonewalling.
posted by Peach at 1:30 PM on January 22 [1 favorite]



I feel like there are now three constant processes in our world:

4. Everything is an ad network

I don't have a neologism for this. :(
posted by Ayn Marx at 1:58 PM on January 22 [5 favorites]


Perhaps Amazon is enshittified, but would you describe it as dying?

I might, though Amazon is so big, and if it is dying it's happening so slowly, that it's easy to not notice it.

Let's flip the question--would you say Amazon is thriving, or innovating?

Amazon is very good at a few things--fast delivery, web service, selling other people's stuff, and delivering value to stockholders. And they're not very good at some other things--UI, search, curation, streaming music or video, treating workers well, and maintaining its public image.

This might be like Janet Maslin talking about Nixon, but I probably know more people who are intentionally avoiding Amazon than I do potential customers they haven't reached yet.

Sooner or later I imagine some regulator will break Amazon up, or somebody will come along with a plan to keep the profitable things and sell the rest for parts.
posted by box at 2:02 PM on January 22 [4 favorites]


The ad doesn't show up for my husband, so we're thinking it might be A/B testing. I sent in feedback, which I expect to have no effect at all!
posted by shirobara at 2:13 PM on January 22 [1 favorite]


This might be like Janet Maslin talking about Nixon, but I probably know more people who are intentionally avoiding Amazon than I do potential customers they haven’t reached yet.

Pauline Kael!
posted by Going To Maine at 3:34 PM on January 22 [3 favorites]


Well, that's embarrassing.
posted by box at 3:44 PM on January 22


I suddenly realized they are perfectly capable of taking away my hundreds of ebooks any time they decide to cut and run.


It's already happened. Ironically the books in question were 1984 and Animal Farm.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 3:45 PM on January 22 [9 favorites]


@Going To Maine: Perhaps Amazon is enshittified, but would you describe it as dying?

The part of Amazon which sells retail stuff has entered its value extraction phase.

There's lots of other parts of Amazon so it can enshittify asyncronously. Or Carcinize, I suppose.
posted by nickzoic at 6:38 PM on January 22


Almost everything being said about Amazon right now was said about Walmart a few decades ago. Last I checked they are still around and profitable and serving tens of millions of happy customers. I was going to make a snarky comment about GUM in Russia, but look they're still around too.
posted by twsf at 7:21 PM on January 22


Interesting to see this logic applied to the online D&D controversy right now. Parts of it fit quite nicely...
posted by Chuffy at 8:00 PM on January 22 [2 favorites]


Attention is like cryptocurrency: a worthless token that is only valuable to the extent that you can trick or coerce someone into parting with "fiat" currency in exchange for it. You have to "monetize" it – that is, you have to exchange the fake money for real money.
Well yes, except that advertisers are not being tricked or coerced into paying real money for our attention - they do it willingly in the knowledge that paying real money for our attention will trick or coerce users into giving them slightly more real money for their shitty products or services. Or, rarely, those products or services will genuinely be worth more to users and they'll pay for them willingly and knowingly. Attention is definitely not worthless - whether it's online or in the real world, advertisers have been paying real money to grab it for much longer than the WWW has been around.
posted by dg at 9:18 PM on January 22 [4 favorites]


Social network enshittification has been a perpetual problem, even before Facebook seemingly ended the social network churn. The only reason email was salvageable was by deploying a 90's era GPT-3 equivalent.

As MeFi’s recent funding drive has shown, it’s tough to run a popular website when you’re not a large corporation.

Well it's also been tough to run an ad driven popular website as a large corporation lately. Almost like Tim Cook realized he has two levers to control in his "AAPL outperforms SPX" comp package: making AAPL go up, and making SPX go down.
posted by pwnguin at 9:30 PM on January 22 [1 favorite]


@paul@paulkedrosky.com: "If you're interested in the general topic—deaths of despair—the Case/Deaton books of the same name is required reading. It ties the change more to a disappearance of middle-class resilience and meaning via lost manufacturing jobs." The End of the Road to Serfdom - "In his landmark Capital in the Twenty-First Century, Thomas Piketty and his grad students trace the world's capital flow for 300 years, showing (among other things) that when the wealth of the richest 10 percent of us crosses a threshold, this capital class gains the ability to command political outcomes: they can turn their wealth into pro-wealth policies, which make them wealthier, and gives them more control over our policies." Exit - "The dreams of collaborative software building, universal privacy guaranteed by strong encryption, autonomy, chosen community, and an escape from scarcity—in short, the professed ideals of West Coast libertarianism—have taken a back seat to the imperative to track, extract, and monetize. Instead of a global consciousness, we have a giant machine for selling ads."
Thiel’s aristocratic characterization of exit as an escape—not from a place or from the state, but from politics and the “unthinking demos”—explains much of the chaos of today’s public scene, not just in the United States, but around the world.

If freedom is to be found through an exit from politics, then it follows that the degradation of the political process in all its forms—the integrity of the voting system, standards in public life, trust in institutions, the peaceful transfer of power—is a worthy project. If Thiel, the elite Stanford technocrat, is funding disruptive populists in American elections, it’s not necessarily because he believes in the wisdom of their policy prescriptions. They are the tribunes of the “unthinking demos.” If the masses want their Jesus and a few intellectuals to string up, it’s no skin off Charles Koch’s nose. Populism is useful to elite libertarians because applying centrifugal force to the political system creates exit opportunities. But for whom?

One of the most quietly influential books about libertarian political exit is The Sovereign Individual, which was written in 1997 by the antitax activist (and future Newsmax board member) James Dale Davidson with the editor William Rees-Mogg, the father of the Conservative minister and arch Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg. Together the authors imagine a “cognitive elite” who will operate outside political control.[1,2,3]
Make it easier to raise children say many Chinese after population falls - "When we have good income, of course we would be able to invest more in our children."[4]
In a study published last year, the think tank compared the cost of raising a child to the age of 18 years relative to the multiples of GDP per capita for different countries.

In Australia it was 2.08 times, 2.24 times in France, 2.91 times in Sweden, 3.64 times in Germany, and 4.11 times in the US.

By comparison, north Asian countries were the costliest, with Japan 4.26 times, China 6.9 times and South Korea 7.79 times. They were also ranked far lower for gender equality by the World Economic Forum versus countries such as Finland and Norway where birth rates were rising. A key root cause of low birth rates is gender inequality, demographers said.
posted by kliuless at 12:12 AM on January 23 [11 favorites]


I will also recommend, as always, The Adults in the Room, written by one of Deadspin's staff shortly before they all quit en masse. It's extremely articulate about (1) how Deadspin functioned as a business before it was bought, (2) how and why Deadspin's new capitalist-leech management class changed it, (3) why that approach was drastically less effective, and (4) why said leeches didn't care in the slightest.

(Archive link; won't give Deadspin any views.)

tl;dr:
The journalists at Deadspin and its sister sites, like most journalists I know, are eager to do work that makes money; we are even willing to compromise for it, knowing that our jobs and futures rest on it. An ever-growing number of media owners, meanwhile, are so exceedingly unwilling to reckon with the particulars of their own business that they refuse to accept our eagerness to help them make money. They’re speaking a language no one else does, proud of their own inability not just to not fail, but to understand the terms on which they’re failing. The tragedy of digital media isn’t that it’s run by ruthless, profiteering guys in ill-fitting suits; it’s that the people posing as the experts know less about how to make money than their employees, to whom they won’t listen.
As an I-can't-get-into-this-in-any-more-detail anecdote, an acquaintance of mine has been pretty involved in the Discovery/HBO debacle, and describes the people running things over there in more-or-less identical terms.
posted by Tom Hanks Cannot Be Trusted at 2:35 AM on January 23 [13 favorites]


they could put that [autoplaying iOS app] ad at the top of the screen, put ads within the book, suddenly decide to stop supporting the whole thing, or who knows what else. And there's not room for a competitor to come along and offer me a better experience because the legal restrictions on breaking Amazon's DRM mean that I couldn't transfer the books I've already bought to a new reading app.

Yep. An example of "or who knows what else" is what Apple's done with its own Books app, drastically changing the UX of the core reading experience. For me, it's now literally unusable; I can't read on my iPhone any more. My hundreds of books bought from Apple can't be transferred to an alternative app, and even if I could find one that was as pleasant to use as Books used to be (no luck yet), I have absolutely no guarantee that something appalling won't be done to it in its turn.

I keep getting to the point of thinking I should "just" write my own, but even if I could and did, as far as I can tell, there is no such thing as a platform-agnostic e-book store. If I want to read traditionally published fiction, I have to use one of the mainstream e-readers, because DRM. As for independently-published fiction, heaven only knows; I already hit a wall with a lot of that because it's often Kindle-only, and Kindle's lack of proper page numbers (by which I mean: if you're on page 32 and you turn the page, you're on page 33) is a complete dealbreaker for me. (Autoplaying advertising would be an even bigger dealbreaker. Dear god, what are they thinking?)
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 3:25 AM on January 23 [2 favorites]


Do you remember those creepy videos on YouTube, with adults wearing cheap costumes and beating each other up or acting pervy, with lots of keywords for popular children's content? They're on TikTok now.
posted by harriet vane at 4:20 AM on January 23 [3 favorites]


Then suddenly they moved it to something new they called IMDB TV (because of course they own IMDB) where you could still watch it, but with random commercials dropped in.

And they’ve enshittified IMDB TV with its recent rebranding to FreeVee…
posted by Ranucci at 7:43 AM on January 23 [1 favorite]


Perhaps Amazon is enshittified, but would you describe it as dying?

There was a mall in my city that was very busy all the time. All the high school students flooded in to eat at the food court every day and all the people who worked uptown ran errands there at the dollar store, pharmacy, bookstore, bank, candy store, stores that sold office wear and the Radio Shack, as well as grabbing lunches and working out at the gym. But then an out of province telecom company bought up the provincial telecom company and about six months later laid off all the employees and closed the local office.

This meant that maybe as much as a third of the adults who ran errands at the mall stopped going there. And this meant that a small handful of stores went out of business - they were mainly the higher end office wear stores. But this meant there were empty storefronts, and the mall had their rental income reduced.

They mall management decided to deal with this in two ways. One way was to jack up the rent on the remaining tenants, and the other was to replace the lost tenants with higher end tenants. They decided to rebrand themself as the cities upscale mall. In particular they looked at the location of the Radio Shack which was on the ground floor and decided that it was getting prime space and needed to pay a lot more for it.

The new high end tenants went out of business because the well paid corporate job shoppers were too few in number and the Radio Shack went out of business because it couldn't cover rent.

The mall doubled down on raising the rents and the advertising its prestige image and even deliberately began to squeeze out the low end tenants in hopes of replacing them with higher payers. They wanted to focus only on the high profit end. But they were going after an increasingly shrinking pool of retail shoppers while at the same time increasing the prices on everything for sale in the mall.

The focus on the higher profit retail steadily led to tenants going out of business. By the time Covid hit, over thirty percent of the mall was empty storefronts, and the traffic was reduced to mainly being the pharmacy, the dollar store, the bookstore and the food court. Most of the other tenants had stopped making a profit and were trying to figure out what to do now. The mall was still busy and the office workers and the students still went there but it was so bad that the mall had started to offer heavily subsidized rent to people of the right social class, such as an antique store owner and the city art club which got a display space opposite where the Radio Shack used to be, where the dilettante unemployed spouses of high earners got to hang amateur paintings with high prices that were only ever bought by their friends.

Even with the subsidized high end tenants, the mall was still only 70% full. Covid, of course, reversed the proportion, so now 70% of the storefronts have no tenants and the antique store which makes no sales occupies three of them.

Right now Amazon is doing what that mall did. They are focusing on the more profitable higher end customers, and trying to get rid of the riffraff. How do they do that? They link your IP to how much you spend, and offered different prices to different customers. That means that if my professional, well paid IT sister in Silicon Valley logs in and checks out the price of raincoat at a specific Amazon merchant and I log in and check out the price of the same raincoat at the same merchant she gets a significantly lower price. Once the exhange rate is calculated the difference is eye-watering.

Moreover, if I start shopping at Amazon, find a few bargains and put them into my shopping cart, the price on the items in the shopping cart begins to climb. Just for fun I once kept shopping to watch how the prices in the cart would go up. I gave up because I ran out of time after the $2 and $4 items (cheap collectable dog themed items like key chains that were intended as gifts) had gone up to $30. Presumably if they had stayed in my cart longer than two hours they would have kept going up. My sister can park things in her cart for weeks and they never budge in price. But then the things she puts in her cart generally start at $30 or $40. It's been fascinating to compare experiences.

Meanwhile everyone I know who buys low end stuff on Amazon is reporting that they don't actually get what they order. Sometimes they get an empty box. Often they get something that bears a distant resemblance to what they ordered. For example, it will be a white shirt... but not cotton, without a collar, an ultra thin fabric and two sizes smaller than ordered. But quite often the merchant lets them know that shipping will take longer... and since these low end buyers do not live in large US cities and use Prime the shipping times are initially fairly long. The merchandise actually never ships, and also the merchant does not respond to requests for refunds, so the buyer has to go through their credit card company.

However the credit card companies have been alerted to buyer fraud where buyers claim that the merchandise was never delivered and ask for refunds while happily keeping whatever they ordered, so the credit card companies look at the buyers purchase history and if the "merchandise never delivered" refunds add up to any kind of a notable percentage, they won't do any refunds. You get maybe one or two and then the credit card company will never do it again.

So I conclude that the low end customers are not generating enough profit for Amazon, and they don't want them. The definition of low end is steadily creeping upward, as it did with the mall. Amazon's business strategy is to go for the carriage trade. But this is at a time when the actually number of people who can afford to spend masses of money through Amazon on luxury goods is steadily shrinking. Just when significant numbers of the middling middle class people are sliding into the bottom end of the middle class, Amazon is working to get rid of their customers in that income bracket.

I don't think Amazon is on its death bed, but I do think it has received a positive tuberculin test, and is now out dancing wildly in smoke filled cafés after midnight, with a hectic flush on its cheeks that contrasts strikingly with how interestingly pale they are. There is a just a little - a tiny - bit of blood showing in the handkerchief when they cough.

They are shipping boxes that have been stuffed with plastic bags to look full and then accusing the customer who received it and complain of attempted fraud. Once that happens to you, are you going to keep shopping there?
posted by Jane the Brown at 8:04 AM on January 23 [25 favorites]


My experience with amazon hasn't been that bad, but their search keeps getting worse, and I've noticed that there are more used book dealers with relatively low ratings-- few go about 95% on the cheap books. It didn't used to be like that.
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 8:18 AM on January 23 [6 favorites]


They are shipping boxes that have been stuffed with plastic bags to look full and then accusing the customer who received it and complain of attempted fraud.

That's not my experience with Amazon at all. It's in fact the exact opposite. It's weird how different it is, but I have no ability to tell if one is incorrect or both are true.
posted by The_Vegetables at 8:41 AM on January 23 [2 favorites]


I will also recommend, as always, The Adults in the Room, written by one of Deadspin's staff shortly before they all quit en masse. It's extremely articulate about (1) how Deadspin functioned as a business before it was bought, (2) how and why Deadspin's new capitalist-leech management class changed it, (3) why that approach was drastically less effective, and (4) why said leeches didn't care in the slightest.

I'm not sure that story is 100% correct. Gawker was facing a really bad lawsuit that was because they published something questionable - but survivable. Survivable if their managing editor hadn't been a complete idiot. Go read his court testimony - he hanged them all. So in that sense, that they put such a person (#1) in charge and couldn't reign in his shenanigans during an important trial (#2) - they did need some adults in the room. It doesn't sound like they got any, I'll take that part as true.
posted by The_Vegetables at 8:55 AM on January 23 [1 favorite]


I don't think Amazon is on its death bed, but I do think it has received a positive tuberculin test, and is now out dancing wildly in smoke filled cafés after midnight, with a hectic flush on its cheeks that contrasts strikingly with how interestingly pale they are. There is a just a little - a tiny - bit of blood showing in the handkerchief when they cough.

Later Amazon, dying and repentant, will return to the childhood farm, only for the beaten-down father of Big Retail to turn them away saying tearfully "I have no child"....
posted by daisystomper at 8:55 AM on January 23 [6 favorites]


The internet used to be great. Then someone tacked on the world wide web.

The books I own are overwhelming from local thrift stores.

In 2022 I read 14 books: 4 from the library, 5 purchased from thrift stores, 5 purchased new. All paper, none electronic.
posted by neuron at 9:28 AM on January 23 [1 favorite]


but with random commercials dropped in. I suppose if someone were to complain, they'd say it better replicates the original viewing experience or something
If only this were true. The algorithmically added commercials in Freevee (nee IMDB TV) typically do not land in the (very obvious) commercial break fades in the original shows. I once had a commercial break inserted a mere 10 seconds before the ad break fade in the original show. Infuriating. (tbf all ad supported streaming seems to be equally bad at this)
posted by 3j0hn at 10:05 AM on January 23 [2 favorites]


JustSayNoDawg: He left out the flip side of the coin: sites attract shitty users. The bad people show up eventually, or in some cases are there first, and well, shitty finds a way.
The Eternal September disagrees: shitty users turned up and then were turned away or reformed when they learned social norms. The swamp happened when we could not reform enough users fast enough, resulting in the denial of service. (Other factors like USA's highly individualistic, rather than community-minded, culture amplified this, sure and you're welcome to make your own conclusions with blackjacks and hookers.)
posted by k3ninho at 12:37 PM on January 23 [2 favorites]


I had to look up Dr. James Mickens. Thank you for that.

It’s been known for years that JavaScript is a dangerous, unholy language that is banned in 27 countries and most fine restaurants. In this talk, I will use deeply personal and completely biased examples to describe why I hate JavaScript.

and

In this bleak, relentlessly morbid talk, James Mickens will describe why making computers secure is an intrinsically impossible task.

Thank you for some more reading ... I think.
posted by NoThisIsPatrick at 5:00 PM on January 23


schmod: I think seanmpuckett's point is especially poignant, because Cory's spent 20+ years telling content-creators to give their work away for free.

...with the justification that he has to give away his work because he's competing for relevance and customer attention in the sense nodes of The Algorithm. But that is enshitty now, the rules of what gets promoted, shadowbanned or forgotten are a reflection, not of what the spread of the market wants, but of what's promoted by those grinding earnings out of those paying.
posted by k3ninho at 5:46 AM on January 24 [1 favorite]


Enshittification. Somehow my brain started hearing that word to the opening bars of Gale Garnet's evil earworm We'll Sing in the Sunshine when I read it.
posted by y2karl at 1:01 PM on January 24


Mike Masnick: How The Friedman Doctrine Leads To The Enshittification Of All Things
Once you go public, and you have that quarterly drumbeat from Wall Street where pretty much all that matters is revenue and profit growth. Indeed, it’s long forgotten now, but Jeff Bezos and Amazon actually were a rare company that kind of bucked that trend, and for a while at least, told Wall Street not to expect such things, as it was going to invest more and more deeply in serving its customers, and Wall Street punished Bezos for it. It’s long forgotten now, but Wall Street absolutely hated Amazon Prime, which locked in customer loyalty, but which they thought was a huge waste of money. The same was true of Amazon Web Services, which has become a huge revenue driver for the company.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 4:13 PM on January 24 [3 favorites]


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