The Great Enshittening

The Great Enshittening delineates a decline in tech companies’ service quality, marked by a shift from user-focused benefits to prioritizing shareholder gains, impacting user trust and market dynamics, and emerging as a notable trend in technology sector analysis.

Definition and Scope

  • The Great Enshittening, a term coined by Cory Doctorow, refers to a transformative process in which internet services progressively deteriorate in quality, transitioning from being indispensable and beneficial to unusable and potentially harmful.
  • This phenomenon suggests a systemic issue within the tech industry, affecting a broad range of online services and platforms.

Three-Stage Process

  • Stage 1: User Lock-in – Initially, companies offer substantial benefits and features to users, making their services highly attractive and indispensable. This stage is characterized by a focus on user acquisition and retention.
  • Stage 2: Business Customer Lock-in – After securing a stable user base, these benefits are gradually redirected towards attracting business customers. This shift often leads to a change in service dynamics, where the needs of business customers start taking precedence over end-users.
  • Stage 3: Value Harvesting – The final stage involves prioritizing the interests of shareholders and company profits. Here, the quality and utility of services are minimized to the level just sufficient to keep users and business customers engaged, while maximizing shareholder returns.

Economic Incentives and Profit Motive

The transition from a user-centric approach to a shareholder-centric model is driven by economic incentives. Companies increasingly prioritize profit maximization, often at the expense of user experience and long-term service quality.

Psychological and Behavioral Aspects

The process exploits psychological and behavioral factors, such as user habits and dependencies, to maintain engagement even as service quality declines. This exploitation reflects a deep understanding of user behavior and the effective use of this knowledge to maximize corporate benefits.

Impact on User Trust and Experience

As services decline in quality, there is a significant erosion of user trust and satisfaction. This often leads to a decrease in user engagement and loyalty, potentially affecting the company’s long-term market position and reputation.