How do we push value to communities?
I keep thinking about The ‘Enshittification’ of TikTok by Cory Doctorow.
He describes the process:
This is enshittification: Surpluses are first directed to users; then, once they're locked in, surpluses go to suppliers; then once they're locked in, the surplus is handed to shareholders and the platform becomes a useless pile of shit. From mobile app stores to Steam, from Facebook to Twitter, this is the enshittification lifecycle.
This process begins with finding the hard side of the market, described by Andrew Chen. This is the group — the Uber drivers, the Amazon shoppers, the Google searchers — that you need to bring in first.
The vicious cycle that Doctrow describes is one built on capitalism. The question that sticks in my mind: what other systems can we build that distribute the value in different ways?
I work in civil society. In other words, for and with nonprofit organizations. This whole sector exists to support people who have not been able to access the systems and resources made available by the model of capitalism that is practiced in much of the world. We can build shelter, transport food, provide education, collect memorabilia in museums. We can do so many things. However, so much of that is completely inaccessible to ever larger groups of people.
We are still — still — extracting value for the benefit of a minuscule part of our communities. And then many of us — I include myself — are just comfortable enough that our urgency for change does not lead to system change. We spend too much time doing system adjustment.
So, what does system change look like? Does it look like the fediverse?
iso_pace on pixelfed.social; Pixelfed is an ActivityPub-powered photo sharing network
ActivityPub-powered tools depend on protocols, not platforms. This promise is called out in an essay by Mike Masnick published by the Filecoin Foundation for the Decentralized Web. Masonic writes:
So much of our thinking about today’s world is based on a mental model that effectively craves centralization. We’re working off of a model that focuses on efficiency and profit maximization that automatically pushes towards centralization and what is, in effect, a dictatorial (benevolent or not) view of how society should be structured.
What if, he asks, we can maximize for the benefits of a decentralized value:
Smaller, more decentralized projects can be more nimble, quicker to adapt and change. The fact that lots of smaller groups are trying out ideas allows for rapid experimentation with different approaches, often leading to faster iteration and innovation, driven by competition rather than sheer power and dominance. It also distributes power to the ends, decreasing the risk of abuse of power.
Decentralization is also more resilient. One part of the network can fall, without bringing down everything.
Protocols and decentralization bring benefits:
– they make the rules explicit
– this makes it possible for people to use the system
– and to build at the edges
– it provides a way for people to interrogate and improve those rules
– this exposes this system and provides an opportunity for change
What if we develop the protocols and language that let us make our relationships explicit and make equally explicit the way resources are shared along the network? What if we support the policies that enable that? We can find chokepoints. We can find places where there are too many resources, places where there are not enough.
The call to action in Blueprint 2023 by Lucy Bernholz is also very relevant here. She argues:
… all civil society needs to engage deeply with the public policies that shape digital systems. It is the only sector that has the incentives and aspirations to do so on behalf of individuals and communities. Civil society organizations and advocates need to discard the sense that they are passively subject
to the outcome of digital public policy negotiations or technology innovation. Civil society must recognize that it is, and must be, a leader in how digital systems are designed, regulated, deployed, and prohibited.
We can turn the energy of small civil society organizations into a benefit — they can illuminate a problem that would be otherwise invisible to the network. To do that, we need a decentralized network, multiple protocols for valorizing those organizations, and a way to visual the resources that travel over them.
We need more tools for this than tax records — which is by and large what we have today.
This thinking is still so messy — pulling together a variety of ideas and trying to hack them into working order. Since ideas come from the accretion of knowledge, I’m going to keep plugging away and trying to put these thoughts together.