The 'Enshittification' of Online Platforms: A Dystopian Descent

The 'Enshittification' of Online Platforms: A Dystopian Descent

Tech journalist and science fiction writer Cory Doctorow has unleashed a scathing critique on the perceived decline of online platforms, coining the term "enshittification" to describe the phenomenon. In his recent article titled "The ‘Enshittification’ of TikTok," Doctorow not only lambasts Google for its alleged descent into useless search results but also predicts dire consequences for platforms that succumb to this trend.

Doctorow points to Google Search, a once-pioneering product built on principles outlined in its founders' 1998 paper, as a prime example of enshittification. The company, which has historically acquired successful products rather than building them in-house, is accused of prioritizing self-promotion, intrusive ads, and parasitic SEO junk over user-centric results.

The consequences, according to Doctorow, are severe. Google, recently undergoing layoffs and reportedly in a state of panic over the rise of AI chatbots, is said to be seeking an AI-driven search tool that may prioritize what it thinks users should see rather than what they are actually searching for.

contact us  Drawing parallels with TikTok's algorithm, Doctorow acknowledges the effectiveness of pre-enshittified recommendations but expresses skepticism about Google's ability to design a non-enshittified chatbot front-end. He argues that the inherent incentives for self-promotion and manipulation may result in an equilibrium where users are nearly dissatisfied enough to leave but not quite, making the platform fragile and susceptible to external shocks.

Doctorow concludes that enshittification is the death knell for platforms, calling for a shift in policy focus from preserving dying platforms to minimizing the cost to users when these platforms reach their expiry date. He advocates for enshrining user rights, such as end-to-end encryption, and emphasizes the importance of freedom of exit—allowing users to leave a platform while staying connected to their communities.

In a broader context, Doctorow contends that tech businesses often undermine technological self-determination, making more profit by limiting user freedoms. While acknowledging the inevitability of technological evolution, he warns against sacrificing user freedom for corporate gains.

As platforms like TikTok face the onslaught of enshittification, Doctorow's call to action is clear: it may be too late to save these platforms, but policymakers should focus on protecting user rights and preserving the freedom to exit sinking platforms. The dystopian descent of online platforms, according to Doctorow, demands a reevaluation of priorities in the digital landscape.
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