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Startseite » Blog » The Downward Spiral: Understanding Enshittification in Online Platforms

The Downward Spiral: Understanding Enshittification in Online Platforms

In the dynamic landscape of online platforms, a term has recently emerged that describes a trajectory all too familiar yet often unspoken: enshittification. This term, though laced with humor, soberly characterizes the gradual decline in user experience on various online platforms, under the relentless pressure of monetization. “Enshittification”, or “platform decay”, goes back to a blog post by author Cory Doctorow from November 2022. In 2023, the term was even chosen as word of the year by the American Dialect Society. Our article delves into the stages of enshittification, offering insights into how and why many beloved platforms descend into this pitfall. [1]

Steps towards Enshittification

1. The Promising Beginnings

It all starts with a vision – a platform is born out of an innovative idea, centred around the user. These platforms often break new ground, offering unique, engaging, and valuable experiences. They rapidly attract a user base, thriving on the principles of community, utility, and user satisfaction. This golden era is marked by a focus on what users love, fostering a loyal community. [1, 2]

2. The Monetization

As platforms grow, so do their financial obligations. The initial focus on user experience starts to share the stage with the need to generate revenue. This isn’t inherently negative – after all, platforms need to sustain themselves. The introduction of ads, subscription models, or premium features is typically the first step in this direction. If done thoughtfully, monetization can coexist with a positive user experience. [1, 2]

3. The Priority Paradigm Shift

The tipping point in enshittification occurs when the balance between monetization and user experience tilts decidedly towards the former. This shift is frequently a response to external pressures – investors seeking returns, market competition, or the sheer scale of operation. As revenue generation becomes paramount, user needs and preferences start taking a back seat. [1, 2]

4. Deterioration in User Experience

Subtle at first, the changes become more aggressive. Platforms become ad-heavy, data privacy becomes a casualty, paywalls become more restrictive, and algorithms prioritize engagement over content quality. The user experience is compromised, with platforms pushing features that maximize revenue, often at the expense of what made them appealing in the first place. [1, 2]

5. The Final Descent: Enshittification Complete

The term enshittification captures the final stage of this journey – a platform that once flourished as a user-centric community now stands as a shadow of its former self, primarily driven by profit motives. User dissatisfaction is high, with the original value proposition buried under layers of monetization tactics. In Doctorow’s explanation, this is where platforms finally collapse. [1, 2]

Case Study: Facebook

Seemingly, Doctorow’s favourite example of platform decay is the course that Facebook took from its revolutionary, albeit not uncontroversial start to today’s often times unbeloved, ad-ridden and as many attest completely toxic “unsocial” platform. [2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8]

Doctorow stems its analysis on the grounds of economic incentives. Once started with a high surplus of venture capital, Facebook grew with innovative features and the promise of a private place for anyone to connect to their friends. During this first stage, this surplus is allocated to users in the form of user-centric features and low barriers to enter. Crucially, this leverages the lock-in effect of many social media platforms, whereas Facebook indeed fine-tuned this art. [2, 6]

The network-effect helped Facebook grow immensely, and once switching costs where high enough (and venture capitalists started to get impatient regarding their investment returns), the platform started to introduce privacy-degrading measures such as sponsored content, non-chronolgical timelines as well as targeted tracking and advertisement during this second phase. [2, 6, 7, 8, 9]

Facebook’s user counts and advertisement market share increased the lock-in effect not only for users of the platform, but also for advertisers and companies that tried to reach their target audience. At this point, Doctorow claims, the tipping point of “enshittification” starts within the third phase. Due to it’s market dominance, the platform is now able to generate surplus for itself, while squeezing welfare out of users via further invasive monetization measures as well as higher prices for advertisers, due to its (quasi-) monopolistic position. [2, 6, 8]

These measures go further in the fourth phase as the platform scramble to make profit. Doctorow explains, that during this phase, it further deteriorates user experience as well as profits and contract conditions of advertisers and publishers, all while keeping users and companies locked-in via the network-effect. [2, 6]

However, these network-effects are also the very reason platforms crumble within short time during the last phase of platform-decay. If nobody wants to leave the platform due to all the communities and friendships they established on it, despite all the anti-user features and deteriorating experience, a tipping point where switching costs are lower than costs to stay on the platform eventually. Once people start to leave, the network-effect works in reverse and the lock-in weakens, until more and more people find an alternative somewhere else on the internet. [2, 6, 7, 8]


Two people sitting in front of a laptop, pointing at its screen.

Enshittification serves as a cautionary tale for emerging platforms and a wake-up call for established ones. It challenges the tech industry to find sustainable business models that balance profitability with user satisfaction. The future of online platforms hinges on their ability to innovate not just in technology, but in business strategies that uphold the user experience above all else.

The analysis of platform decay is also a criticism of today’s course Big Tech and Gigeconomy, dominated by few (quasi-) monopolists that rise to powers far greater that many states on earth. Scrumbling to make profit for their investors by squeezing customers, companies as well as publishers, it is also a call-out for user-centric, user-owned and de-centralised platforms not in the hand of few, but by the people that socialise on them. [6, 7, 8]

As users and consumers, awareness of this trend empowers us to demand better. As developers, entrepreneurs, or investors, it serves as a reminder of the long-term value of user trust and satisfaction. The hope is for a digital world where enshittification is the exception, not the norm.


  1. Doctorow, C. (2023): Tiktok’s enshittification. URL: https://pluralistic.net/2023/01/21/potemkin-ai/#hey-guys
  2. Doctorow, C. (2024): My McLuhan lecture on enshittification. URL: https://pluralistic.net/2024/01/30/go-nuts-meine-kerle/#ich-bin-ein-bratapfel
  3. Carlson, N. (2010): At last — the full story of how Facebook was founded. URL: https://www.businessinsider.com/how-facebook-was-founded-2010-3
  4. Sadowski, J. (2021): Facebook is a harmful presence in our lives. It’s not too late to pull the plug on it. URL: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/oct/06/facebook-scandals-social-media
  5. Gross, T. (2021): Reporters Reveal ‘Ugly Truth’ Of How Facebook Enables Hate Groups And Disinformation. URL: https://www.npr.org/2021/07/13/1015483097/an-ugly-truth-how-facebook-enables-hate-and-disinformation
  6. Doctorow, C. (2023): The Internet Con – How to Seize the Means of Computation. URL: https://craphound.com/category/internetcon/
  7. Giblin, R. & Doctorow, C. (2022): Chokepoint Capitalism – How Big Tech and Big Content Captured Creative Labor Markets and How We’ll Win Them Back. URL: https://craphound.com/category/chokepoint/
  8. Doctorow, C. (2021): How To Destroy Surveillance Capitalism. URL: https://craphound.com/category/destroy/
  9. Voigt, E. (2024): Meta zahlt nach Milliardengewinn erstmals Dividende. URL: https://www.zeit.de/wirtschaft/unternehmen/2024-02/meta-facebook-instagram-gewinn-dividende
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Pascal founded ViOffice together with Jan in the fall of 2020. He mainly takes care of marketing, finance and sales. After his degrees in political science, economics and applied statistics, he continues to work in scientific research. With ViOffice, he wants to provide access to secure software from Europe for everyone and especially support non-profit associations in their digitalization.

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Jan is co-founder of ViOffice. He is responsible for the technical implementation and maintenance of the software. His interests lie in particular in the areas of security, data protection and encryption.

In addition to his studies in economics, later in applied statistics and his subsequent doctorate, he has years of experience in software development, open source and server administration.