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Many of the biggest tech platforms, from Amazon to Facebook, are following a similar pattern of transformation, according to a recent essay by author and Internet activist Corey Doctorow.

First, he says, these platforms pander to users with artificially low prices for products or an exciting way to connect with friends.

They then hook up vendors, such as advertisers or third-party retailers, with promises of reaching a captive audience.

Finally, Doctorov says that when companies try to maximize their profits, they end up ruining the experience on their platforms through a process he describes with a four-letter word that we can’t broadcast or publish.

Below is an edited transcript of Doctorow’s conversation with Marketplace’s Megan McCarthy Carino about how internet platforms are dying.

Kori Doktorov. As business customers flock to the platform, the number of places you can buy things from the platform starts to dwindle. Media companies first become Facebook or YouTube, vendors close their brick-and-mortar marketplaces in favor of Amazon, or they are forced out of business. And when those business customers are locked in as well, when they have nowhere else to go because users are used to getting their content or their heavy goods or services on our platform, then the platform owners can start collecting surplus for themselves.

Megan McCarthy Carino. Even though people complain about them incessantly, I think it’s hard to argue that they’re dead. People still use them.

Doctor: These companies see [an] an outpouring to smaller platforms where we’ve had, you know, it’s still fringe, but in the so-called fediverse, there’s been a lot of growth in Mastodon and other decentralized services. And you know, there’s a mindset that people are still on these platforms where you can call it revealed preference. And you can say, well, if you’re still paying [Amazon] Prime, so you should like Prime, even if you complain that you think Amazon is a bad company. But if all the merchants in your community have closed and you’re still using Prime, is that a revealed preference? Or is it closed?

McCarthy Carino. What can be done to make it better?

Doctor: So I think, you know, we’re very politically oriented these days in terms of trying to make these platforms better. But what I’d like to see is a lot more emphasis on making them less destructive when they give in to their worst impulses, right? Like, if we had interoperability so you could leave a platform like Twitter or Facebook, but continue to message people who haven’t left yet, then you can go and stay in touch with the people who matter. you And as the platform goes down, you know you’re not stuck on it. And then when it finally blew up, your community wouldn’t be scattered to the four winds. You’d essentially already ported it to a number of other, smaller services. We could also create a rule that says it’s an unfair and deceptive practice to tell someone they’ve subscribed to a stream and then not show them stuff from that stream. It [Federal Trade Commission] Under Section 5 of the FTC Act, the FTC has broad jurisdiction over unfair and deceptive police practices. If I say to you, “Show me all the stuff in this feed,” and you say, “Yeah, that’s what I’m going to do,” and then you don’t, I have a hard time seeing how that’s unfair. and not deceptive.

Doctorov’s full essay can be found on his personal blog here. He goes into much more detail about how this cycle has played out at specific companies, such as when advertisers sued Facebook for inflating video standards. Facebook eventually settled the case for $40 million.

And Doctorow cites a recent Forbes report on how TikTok could be headed down a similar path.

Based on internal documents and communications, as well as interviews with several employees of TikTok and its parent company, ByteDance, Forbes reported that the video strategically promotes certain content, what the company calls heating.

This practice can give creators a false impression of how profitable it is to publish on TikTok, while reducing the relevance of its For You stream, which has been TikTok’s biggest selling point.

TikTok told Forbes that it does promote certain videos to “diversify the content experience and introduce celebrities and emerging creators to the TikTok community.”

Finally, The Washington Post had an article last year that showed how the Amazon shopping experience has changed using the example of searching for cat beds.

The piece highlights how many sponsored listings Amazon is running, which made up more than half of the front page. One of them was for a dog bed, something completely different.


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