A theory of how internet platforms die

Many of the biggest tech platforms, from Amazon to Facebook, follow a pattern of change, according to an essay from author and internet activist Cory Doctorow.

First, he says, these platforms court users with low-cost products or an exciting way to connect with friends.

Then, they take agents, such as traders or third-party traders, with promises to reach the captives.

Finally, according to Doctorow, when companies try to increase their profits, they end up breaking the experience on their platforms through a process that he describes with the word four -letters we cannot read or publish.

The following is an edited transcript of a conversation between Doctorow and Marketplace’s Meghan McCarty Carino about the death of online platforms.

Cory Doctorow: As business customers enter the platform, the number of places you can buy things from the platform will decrease. When media companies start being Facebook first or YouTube first, customers will either shut down their brick-and-mortar marketplaces in favor of Amazon or drive them out of business. And when business customers are shut down, there is no other place for them because users are used to getting their content, complex goods or services through our platform, and then the owners of the platform to harvest the rest for them.

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Meghan McCarthy Carino: Although people seem to complain about them, I think it would be hard to argue that they are dead. People still use it.

Doctorow: These companies are seeing it [an] The visit to smaller platforms than us, you know, is still around, but there is a lot of growth in the so-called fediverse and Mastodon and other streaming services. You know, it’s a way of thinking about the fact that people are still on these platforms and you can say that it’s an expressed preference. And you can say, well, if you’re still paying [Amazon] Prime, then you will love Prime, even if you complain that Amazon is a bad company. But if all the merchants in your community have been shut down and you’re still using Prime, is that a preference? Is it locked in?

McCarthy Carino: What, if anything, can be done to make this better?

Doctorow: So I think, you know, there are a lot of policies these days to try to improve these platforms. But what I want to see is more focus on humiliating them when they give in to their evil desires, right? It’s like we’re working together, so you can leave a platform like Twitter or Facebook but still message people who haven’t left, and then you go and stay in touch. to the people concerned. you And when the base comes down, you know, you’re not there. And when it breaks, your community won’t be scattered to the four winds. You have already upgraded on other, cheaper services. We could also make a law that would make it illegal or fraudulent to tell someone they’ve subscribed to a feed and then not show them what’s in that feed. The [Federal Trade Commission] has a broad right under Section 5 of the FTC Act to police unfair practices and fraud. If I say to you, “Show me everything on this feed,” and you say, “Well, that’s what I’m going to do,” and then you don’t do it, I have a hard time understanding how it’s not wrong. , it’s a scam.

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You can find Doctorow’s essay on his personal blog here. There are more stories about how this change affects private companies, such as when advertisers sued Facebook for inflating video metrics. Facebook eventually settled that case for $40 million.

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And Doctorow cites new reports from Forbes about how TikTok may be headed down a similar path.

Based on internal documents and communications as well as interviews with some employees of TikTok and its parent company, ByteDance, Forbes said that the video platform has been able to promote certain programs through what it calls the company is a heater.

This practice could give creators a false impression of how well they are posting on TikTok while reducing the relevance of its Mau feed, which is TikTok’s biggest selling point.

TikTok told Forbes that it is promoting certain videos to “enhance the content experience and introduce popular and innovative creators to the TikTok community.”

Finally, the Washington Post had a piece last year that showed how different Amazon’s shopping experience was, using the example of searching for cat beds.

The section shows the number of support lines that Amazon presents, more than half of the first page. One is for the dog bed, which is completely different.


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