As of late it has become rather fashionable for established tech orgs running established platforms to attempt to make their platforms profitable. While the exact underlying reasons for this in each case varies, the end result is the same: Whatever the secret sauce was, the org manages to forever taint the platform with the changes they end up making. Who are we talking about? Today we'll be discussing Reddit, Twitch, StackOverflow and Twitter.
Three out of four of these examples are actively playing out even as I write the rough draft of this post. It is prudent to note that since I lack a time machine, I don't know for sure how they will work out. However what all three of these situations have in common is that none of these platforms were profitable (consistently and/or at all) before the offensive changes were announced. Side note: We don't 100% know whether or not Twitch is profitable, but there are a lot of good third party analysis articles out there that make a pretty good case for why it's not profitable.
In any event, the saga of Twitter is well known by now. I won't harp on it very long. Needless to say, Twitter was not consistently profitable (mostly not) before Elon Musk bought it for $44 billion. After his endless changes, tweaks and trolling of users and advertisers, Twitter is reportedly worth a third of what it once was and it's advertising revenue has plummeted.
On the flip side StackOverflow is a brand new drama that is just kicking off. I heard about it for the first time earlier today. The long and short of it is that they want to make their content harder to access so they can force AI companies to pay for devouring it to train their AI models.
Twitch is relatively recent as well. While they have rolled back some of their more egregious changes in response to the negative reaction of their user base, make no mistake: Twitch wants a bigger cut and they are actively working to get it. In Twitches case this is especially sad because they are owned by Amazon, who frankly doesnt need anymore money. They have enough goddammit.
Finally we have Reddit, which is the primary inspiration for this post. They are clearly interested in positioning themselves for an IPO. Guess its time for the Venture Capitalists (VCs) to cash out. As part of this in the last week they laid off 5% of their workforce and announced they are forcing users of their "Enterprise" API to pay. Their proposed prices are so steep, every third party reddit app worth its weight will be forced to shutdown, including the iOS app I currently use, Apollo.
Staying with Reddit for a hot minute, the CEO of Reddit, Steve Huffman actually had an AMA about this very topic earlier today (which I actively read while paying about 25% of my attention to the SELF session I was sitting in at the time) and it was exactly the kind of shit show you'd expect it to be. Reddit is about to die and every current user is going to get a front row seat for the big event.
So what does this mean? Beyond the obvious conclusion that institutionalized greed (aka Capitalism) kills everything we love, it means that platforms are transient participants in our tech lives. By extension it also means that we'd all be a lot happier if we just got on board with that idea then planned and acted accordingly.
But alas we are all human beings suffering from some major cognitive disorder known to some as the "human condition". For the most part we aren't capable of that. We find things we like. Then we get attached to them. Then we react very negatively when something comes around that overtly threatens those things. But we don't exist in the long term. Our lives are essentially a long series of strung together semi-random short term experiences largely devoid of actual cause and effect which we desperately attempt to assign meaning to.
This being what it is, we as a whole are oblivious to these larger trends. Of course not all of us are. Some of us are visionaries like Cory Doctorow who basically wrote one of the greatest blog posts ever about this concept and coined the term "Enshittification" for it. This is basically what we are talking about here. And it sucks. But regardless, its true.
So what can we do about this? Not a damn thing. The purpose of this post isn't to provide you with some sense of the path down which remediation lies, rather it exists so that I have a space in which to vocalize my absolute frustration with this state of affairs. I'm tired of seeing people go through this. I'm tired of going through it. I will be deleting my Reddit account soon even as a week ago I logged onto Bluesky for the very first time.
So yes, just like you, I'm part of this vicious cycle. But you know what I realized due to the fact I'm on Bluesky? This actually could be avoided (yeah I lied, I have remediation copium to offer you). We just need to stop treating the web as a serving platter of platforms from which to choose and start treating it like the diverse, independent and resilient network of nodes that it was created to be. By that I mean: content is King.
Yes, Content is King. BlueSky helped me figure this out primarily because it doesn't have a whole lot of content. That's because its a limited community that only grows whenever invite codes happen to be issued to users and those users happen to give them out. Oh sure I felt real special when a Bluesky employee handed me an invite code as a reply to a Mastodon conversation I had with the author of the Intercept article on why BlueSky is less likely to be #Elonned, but once I got there that feeling changed.
So addition to a lacking amount of content, because its elite and exclusive, there isn't a whole lot of great content either. Sure these other platforms have a lot of trash takes from garbage humans on them, but there were enough great people interacting in enough unique and interesting ways that from time to time, that beautiful things were created. On BlueSky the odds of that happening are virtually nill. It's too elite and exclusive for its own good right now. But simultaneously not elite and exclusive enough as I'm there. So YMMV.
In any event, who is producing all of that content? Well it sure as fuck aint Reddit, Twitch, StackOverflow and Twitter themselves, thats for goddamn sure. They employ some elitist tech industry twats (disclaimer: I know because I am one) that basically created a series of interactive web pages. Which exist. To serve content. Which ALL OF YOU are producing.
The second worst tragedy of this situation is that so much good content on these platforms will eventually be lost. The actual worst tragedy is that users are constantly being exploited and very few of them will ever figure that out and react accordingly. These so-called platforms wouldn't even be worth a single goddamn nickel of Monoply Money if they didn't have our content. Think about that.
Time to close out the rant: Fuck these corporations and fuck their platforms. Spin up your own goddamn websites and start publishing and owning your own content. Stop giving these fat cat fucks your content for free. Rather if you'd like, just give it to the world at large like I'm doing here.
In closing, I fully encourage you all to at least delete any Reddit accounts you may have. I'm personally going to wait until the end of the month to do it, to give them one last chance to reverse course, but after today's AMA I highly doubt that anything is going to change over the next three weeks. Twitter is already long gone as it is basically a fascist alt-right hellscape post Elon, so yeah if you haven't, nuke it too. Personally I'm still in wait and see mode for Twitch and StackOverflow but YMMV.
Disclaimer: Wrote most of this while high and drinking at the hotel bar after a wonderful fulfilling half day of SELF sessions. I'm really looking forward to the next day and a half. I've never been to a Linux conference before and so far this has been great. My favorite part is that every single session has been so different from what I expected based on the title and I see that as a very pleasant surprise. It keeps me guessing and it keeps interested.