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New Twitter/X alternative Bluesky has opened itself up to everyone but what hope is there that it won’t end up just as rubbish as the rest of social media?
February 12, 2024
It’s conventional wisdom that Elon Musk has ruined Twitter since he bought it and renamed it X. And it seems the user experience for many has deteriorated. But there’s plenty of evidence that it was ruined long before Musk came to town. In fact, the most substantial proof of that was delivered by Musk himself, when he allowed several independent journalists to access its records, which revealed outrageous levels of forced censorship and general meddling by the US state in both social and regular media.
There’s a strong argument that all social media and much of the internet in general has been gradually ruined over the past decade by a process labelled by tech author and academic Cory Doctorow as ‘enshittification’. He elaborated on the concept in a recent piece published by the FT and we only draw attention to the term because it’s apparently something new social network Bluesky, which became open to all-comers last week, is especially keen to avoid.
In an interview with Wired, Bluesky CEO Jay Graber (pictured above) said she won’t ‘enshittify the network with ads’. Unfortunately she chose to make her pitch for a more open social network via a paywalled article. Thankfully the NY Times makes its tech podcast available on YouTube so, ironically, we have a legacy social network to thank for being able to hear directly from her.
In a nutshell, Doctorow describes enshittification as the process through which an internet platform first seeks user growth through giving stuff away for free, then monetizes those users by charging businesses for access to them (the classic media model), but then, in the search for ever increasing profit, exploits both their users and business customers to such an extent that the experience is ruined for everyone except equity stakeholders in said platform.
The reason they’re able to do this is that they control every aspect of the platform. Thery can initially optimise for end-users, then spam them with commercially valuable content once they’re hooked, then hold advertisers to ransom once they’re dependent. If any user of the platform becomes so exasperated by this that they want to leave, the platform retains all their data so they have to start again from scratch.
Such is the compulsion of big platforms to manipulate the user experience in order to benefit themselves commercially and politically that even new products designed to disrupt have those features baked in from the start.
Blusky’s Graber reckons her platform is different because it has relinquished many of the tools legacy platforms use to tilt the playing field in their favour. One example is that users will apparently have full ownership of their data, enabling them to take it with them if they move to another service.
If you don’t feel like listening to the interview embedded above or aren't a Wired subscriber, you may find the cartoons below useful, taken from Bluesky’s blog announcing its general availability. In essence, they’re trying to revert the internet back to what it promised to be before Google, Facebook, etc dominated it. How it will avoid the monetization temptations that seem to inevitably end in enshittification remains to be seen, but Bluesky’s underlying philosophy looks like a step in the right direction and its progress worth watching.
As the Editorial Director of Telecoms.com, Scott oversees all editorial activity on the site and also manages the Telecoms.com Intelligence arm, which focuses on analysis and bespoke content.
Scott has been covering the mobile phone and broader technology industries for over ten years. Prior to Telecoms.com Scott was the primary smartphone specialist at industry analyst Strategy Analytics’. Before that Scott was a technology journalist, covering the PC and telecoms sectors from a business perspective.
Follow him @scottbicheno
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