The Era Of Enshittification: Decay Of Digital Platforms

Digital platforms face enshittification, transitioning from user-centric to deteriorating experiences.

What causes enshittification of digital platforms?

NL: Enshittification, coined as 2023's Word of the Year, captures the stages of digital platform decay, from initial user value to eventual prioritization of profit over experience, illustrated by Facebook's evolution.

In a landscape where digital platforms like Facebook have become ubiquitous, a new term has emerged to encapsulate their gradual decline: Enshittification. Coined last year, this term was named the Word of the Year for 2023 by the American Dialect Society, symbolizing its resonance with contemporary digital culture dynamics. It describes the progressive deterioration of internet services that were once reliable, highlighting a pervasive trend across digital platforms where user experience worsens over time.

2023 Word of the Year Is “Enshittification” - American Dialect Society
Sheraton New York Times Square Hotel, New York, NY–Jan. 5—The American Dialect Society, in its 34th annual words-of-the-year vote, selected “enshittification” as the Word of the Year for 2023. More than three hundred attendees took part in the deliberations and voting, in an event hosted in conjunction with the Linguistic Society of America’s annual meeting.

The Mechanics Of Platform Degradation

Enshittification unfolds in three distinct stages. Initially, platforms offer value to users, fostering a community through beneficial services. This period of surplus is followed by a shift towards prioritizing business customers, often at the expense of the user experience. Finally, platforms extract value from these business relationships for their own gain, leading to a decline in service quality for all parties involved. This process culminates in the platform's demise, a narrative that has played out across various digital services, with Facebook serving as a prime example.

Facebook: A Case Study In Enshittification

Facebook's evolution from a college networking site to a global platform encapsulates the enshittification process. Its expansion in 2006 marked the beginning of its transformation, initially attracting users with promises of privacy and connectivity. However, as the platform grew, it increasingly exploited user data for advertising, compromising the very privacy it pledged to protect. The platform's shift towards prioritizing shareholder value over user experience represents the final stage of enshittification, characterized by reduced content quality and increased advertising.

Facebook 2004

The Broader Implications Of Digital Decline

The phenomenon of enshittification is not confined to individual platforms but signifies a broader shift in the digital ecosystem. This trend reflects a change in the technological landscape, influenced by factors beyond mere leadership or market dynamics. The erosion of competition, regulation, self-help, and worker power has facilitated this process, highlighting the need for comprehensive measures to address the root causes of digital decline.

Restoring Digital Integrity

To combat enshittification and safeguard the future of digital platforms, a multi-faceted approach is required. Enhancing competition, strengthening regulatory frameworks, enabling user empowerment, and reinforcing worker rights are essential steps towards reversing this trend. The collective effort to address these underlying issues presents an opportunity to reshape the digital landscape, fostering an environment that prioritizes user experience and sustainable growth.

In conclusion, the concept of enshittification offers a critical lens through which to view the current state of digital platforms. By understanding the mechanisms of this decline, we can begin to envision a path towards a more equitable and resilient digital ecosystem.

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