How platforms begin to die
It’s an algorithmic world, and we’re just clicking in it.
Every modern marketer spends some time thinking about the rise, evolution, and (sometimes) fall of digital and social platforms. Many of us remember the amazing social value and then monetization struggles of Prodigy, America Online, and MySpace. Most of us have lived through Facebook’s constant iterations in its 18 years that both drove social media marketing to the power position in a 360-degree marketing playbook and created a lot of short-term value while not factoring in long-term harm around user data, transparency, and civics.
But when we see TikTok innovating ad products or Twitter working to improve targeting to make their ads worth clicking, it can be hard to parse the macro signals among all the micro shifts. Roughly: Is TikTok dying because it has so many ads now and everyone’s gonna leave? Or is this just what always happens as platforms mature? Or both?
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Cory Doctorow wrote a must-read piece in Wired about how platforms begin to die, which he crudely calls “enshittification.” Cory is an internet and digital rights pioneer and a voice worth reading, and he has the best interest of the users while being realistic about the business pressures that power these platforms.
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.
I call this enshittification, and it is a seemingly inevitable consequence arising from the combination of the ease of changing how a platform allocates value, combined with the nature of a "two-sided market," where a platform sits between buyers and sellers, hold each hostage to the other, raking off an ever-larger share of the value that passes between them.
Marketers have a reputation for “ruining” good user experiences. But history shows many users are hesitant to pay for many of these experiences, which means operating costs have to be funded and all of a sudden you get advertising. That makes users upset, and away we go.
That’s why we get articles like this: TikTok has been working on shopping features while Instagram does the exact opposite.
And tweets like this:
What I appreciate about Doctorow’s perspective is that it’s also rooted in reality. He’s not arguing this phenomenon is bad or good. He is reporting on the flywheel cycle we’ve all observed of how users and big businesses interact in the balance between social value and commerce. And as he says, that’s probably okay…
Enshittification truly is how platforms die. That's fine, actually. We don't need eternal rulers of the internet. It's okay for new ideas and new ways of working to emerge. The emphasis of lawmakers and policymakers shouldn't be preserving the crepuscular senescence of dying platforms. Rather, our policy focus should be on minimizing the cost to users when these firms reach their expiry date: Enshrining rights like end-to-end would mean that no matter how autocannibalistic a zombie platform became, willing speakers and willing listeners would still connect with each other.
No, Twitter isn’t going to die because Elon Musk bought it. We’ve discussed this. No, TikTok isn’t going to die because brands are shifting their focus and resources there and are taking over feeds with branded content. However, they will shift. And they will evolve. And the dance of consumers and commerce will affect their short and long-term chances of survival.
That’s the game. Are you still playing?
⚡️ Social Signals
In the last issue I introduced the Social Signals WhatsApp Alert channel (sign up here), and this week Instagram introduced a similar one-to-many broadcast function. Really interesting socials happening through chat and news dissemination right now.
Streaming and social video have now surpassed traditional TV as America’s primary entertainment. New data shows consumers are now watching more content on sites like TikTok, YouTube and than on linear TV. Key quote: “Adults are expected to spend an average of 52% of their daily viewing time on digital platforms, and this pattern is likely to continue due to teenagers’ preference for social media and streaming. The addition of live sports to streaming platforms like Amazon Prime has also accelerated the trend.”
ChatGPT wasn’t just built and launched in 2022. In fact, the technology is based on language model iterations dating back to the 1980s. MIT Tech Review has the timeline and history in this piece called ChatGPT is everywhere. This is where it came from.
However, I think it’s important to note that we’re still learning a lot about how A.I. works altogether. I remember being at Facebook headquarters years ago, and the engineers were telling us they wake up every morning and go study the algorithm to see what it was doing. Like a zookeeper waking up in the morning to study how an animal slept that night. That’s someone’s job. An entire team’s job!
Meanwhile, TikTok recently got a lot of grief for “heating,” a practice that artificially boosts content apart from algorithmic recommendations. And now Twitter is supposedly doing it for their CEO (although Musk is denying it). It’s an algorithmic world, and we’re just clicking in it.
Tiktok released its new data insights tool. You’ll want to spend some time with this.
The good folks at Cinema Romantico have unearthed an amazing Super Bowl commercial opportunity for Michelob Ultra rooted in a scene when the Starfleet gang time travels to 1986 in “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.” I’ll drink to that.
EAGLECAM IS LIVE: The first egg of the 2023 DNR EagleCam season arrived yesterday! Watch it here.
TikTok is urging you to ditch anything 'low vibrational.' I’m gonna spend my weekend working on this.
Even thought Microsoft’s new chat bot is making some huge mistakes right now, you should go sign up for the Bing + ChatGPT beta so you can try it for yourself when it’s time. Here’s some advice on how to get to the top of the multiple-millions-long waitlist.
It turns out there are two types of “millennial pause,” and you should try to avoid both. Here’s how.
🔥 Quick Hits
Insta of the Week: Three Stages of Life
LinkedIn of the Week: This video blew my mind
Twitter Account of the Week: @ShapedInternet — Things that caused the internet to change forever
App of the Week: Smores is a TikTok-style music discovery app that syncs with your Spotify account. And yes, Spotify just announced they’re working on this feature themselves. Try Smores here.
TikTok of the Week: Content.
See you in the future!
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I mean, you could call it "the game," or you could look at it from the perspective of audiences: Instead of conducting user research to meet audience needs and build a product that serves human needs and makes audiences want to pay, tech companies prefer to sell ads on a product that makes audiences addicted to watching.
Media and tech companies alike insist that "audiences won't pay," but these are the same media and tech companies who have been run by the same (predominantly white, male) executive class for a CENTURY-- the class that does absolutely zero product research and only cares about rapid returns on their investment. The only way they can think of to rapid scale is to sell advertising that fuels addictive (or, in the "nice" way of marketers, habit-forming) products. It's this cycle of Babbittry where we replicate the same problems ad nauseaum, and audiences become more and more angry and dissatisfied.
All I'm saying is, throwing up your hands and saying "advertising is the only solution hyuck" is about the least creative business solution one can offer. I wish that people on both the advertising side and the executive side thought, like, marginally outside the box.