Enshittification refers to the gradual degradation of online platforms, which, over time, transition from offering high-quality, user-centric experiences to prioritizing profit maximization at the expense of user satisfaction.
5 minutes

What is Enshittification? And why quality and UX matter more than ever

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In the dynamic and ever-evolving landscape of the internet, a new term has recently emerged to capture a troubling trend: enshittification. This concept explains the gradual degradation of online platforms, which (over time) transition from offering high-quality, user-centric experiences to prioritising profit at the expense of user satisfaction.

Also sometimes referred to as platform decay, the term enshittification was coined by writer Cory Doctorow in 2022. The American Dialect Society selected it as its 2023 Word of the Year.

Enshittification is a process through which a once-loved online platform becomes increasingly frustrating and less user-friendly. Initially, platforms attract users with high-quality content, superior functionality, and a focus on user satisfaction. However, as these platforms grow and the pressure to increase profits intensifies in the face of a user base which has reached saturation, the balance often shifts. The pursuit of revenue through advertising, data mining, and other means can lead to compromised platform quality and a diminished user experience.

Examples of enshittification include services and products provided by Big Tech companies like Amazon, Bandcamp, Facebook, Google, Reddit, Twitter, and Unity.

A recent example is the introduction of advertising to the Amazon Prime Video service – a service the user is already paying for. Now, if you want to keep the ad-free experience you signed up for, you have to cough up an additional £2.99/month.

The Degrading Online Experience

Several factors can contribute to the degrading quality of online platforms:

  • Ad Overload – An excessive number of ads not only disrupts the user experience but also makes platforms feel cluttered and invasive.
  • Privacy Concerns – Increased data collection practices have raised privacy concerns, making users wary of the platforms they once trusted.
  • Algorithm Manipulation – Platforms prioritise content that keeps users engaged longer, often leading to a homogenisation of content and a loss of diversity and quality.
  • User Exploitation – A shift towards exploiting users for data and attention, often at the cost of their well-being, has become evident.
  • Neglect – As the platform’s developers are focused on implementing deliberate work that contributes to enshittification, core parts of the interface or experience that you might take for granted may begin to degrade through general decay or lack of maintenance.

These issues collectively contribute to the enshittification process, eroding trust and satisfaction among users.

Quality and UX: Always Differentiators

It once was expected of large services that their UX and overall quality would be superior. However, as the web becomes saturated with platforms experiencing enshittification, the importance of quality websites and platforms that prioritise good UX has never been greater. For the first time as long as we can remember, it is possible for smaller businesses or emerging services to beat the major players at their own game – just by focusing on delivering their product or service well.

We believe users are becoming increasingly disillusioned with the degrading web of big platforms, seeking alternatives that respect their time, privacy, and need for quality content. This shift presents a golden opportunity for platforms or website owners that are willing to invest in quality and UX to stand out and attract a loyal user base. Here’s why:

  • User Retention – In a sea of options, a superior UX can be the key factor that keeps users returning to a platform.
  • Brand Loyalty – A focus on quality and respect for user privacy fosters trust and loyalty, which are invaluable in today’s competitive landscape.
  • Word of Mouth – Satisfied users are more likely to recommend a platform to others, driving organic growth.
  • Long-term Success – While short-term strategies may boost profits, prioritising quality and UX ensures sustainability and long-term success.

The future – what can you do?

The trend of enshittification should serve as a wake-up call for online platforms, but we’re not sure they can see past the next quarter’s results. As users become more discerning and demand better online experiences, the importance of maintaining high-quality content and superior UX cannot be overstated. Businesses that heed this call and invest in the user experience will not only differentiate themselves in a crowded market but also pave the way for a healthier, more user-friendly internet.

The battle against enshittification is not just about avoiding the decline in quality; it’s about creating a web that values and prioritizes the needs and well-being of its users.

This is where we come in. Ethical Pixels can help you to define this balance and to offer experiences that are not just profitable, but also genuinely enriching and enjoyable for the user. If you’re interested, or feel like this could be an opportunity for your business, you can read more about our Website Design services and what makes us different, or our User Experience consultancy.

If you find this area interesting, or just want a no-pressure chat, feel free to get in touch.

the author

Larry Brangwyn

Larry is a published UX specialist with an extensive track record of creating award-winning online solutions.
Tags:Industry, UX, Websites

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