Start Up No.1938: why platforms die, podcasts exit walled gardens, War Thunder leakers, Twitter’s money trouble, and more

A middle-aged tech bro is spending $2m per year to make his body younger (by some measure). Money well spent, or better invested in having a good time? CC-licensed photo by Boston Public LibraryBoston Public Library on Flickr.

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There’s another post coming this week at the Social Warming Substack on Friday at about 0845 UK time. (I hope.) Free signup.

A selection of 10 links for you. Staying tusky. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter, and on Mastodon at Observations and links welcome.

The enshittification of TikTok • WIRED

Cory Doctorow:


Searching Amazon doesn’t produce a list of the products that most closely match your search, it brings up a list of products whose sellers have paid the most to be at the top of that search. Those fees are built into the cost you pay for the product, and Amazon’s “Most Favored Nation” requirement for sellers means that they can’t sell more cheaply elsewhere, so Amazon has driven prices at every retailer.

Search Amazon for “cat beds” and the entire first screen is ads, including ads for products Amazon cloned from its own sellers, putting them out of business (third parties have to pay 45% in junk fees to Amazon, but Amazon doesn’t charge itself these fees). All told, the first five screens of results for “cat bed” are 50% ads.

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 is why—as Cat Valente wrote in her magisterial pre-Christmas essay—platforms like Prodigy transformed themselves overnight, from a place where you went for social connection to a place where you were expected to “stop talking to each other and start buying things.”

This shell-game with surpluses is what happened to Facebook. First, Facebook was good to you: It showed you the things the people you loved and cared about had to say. This created a kind of mutual hostage-taking: Once a critical mass of people you cared about were on Facebook, it became effectively impossible to leave, because you’d have to convince all of them to leave too, and agree on where to go. You may love your friends, but half the time you can’t agree on what movie to see and where to go for dinner. Forget it.

…Today, Facebook is terminally enshittified, a terrible place to be whether you’re a user, a media company, or an advertiser. It’s a company that deliberately demolished a huge fraction of the publishers it relied on, defrauding them into a “pivot to video” based on false claims of the popularity of video among Facebook users. Companies threw billions into the pivot, but the viewers never materialized, and media outlets folded in droves.


Doctorow writes amazing, compelling rants. I once spoke on the same bill as him at a conference; in the green room beforehand, he was typing away at something or other while also carrying out a conversation with me. And then he gave his talk, which held the audience spellbound. (I think it was about DRM, which was a big thing at the time.)
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Podcast exclusivity is quickly becoming an outdated strategy • Variety

Tyler Aquilina:


If it’s still too early to declare platform-exclusive podcast deals dead as we move into 2023, it’s becoming ever clearer that this business model is likely not long for this world.

Spotify in particular has spent the past few years building up its arsenal of exclusive podcast content, shelling out more than $1bn to acquire studios, lock down popular shows and secure marquee names. Those include podcasting behemoth Joe Rogan, former Presidential couple the Obamas (through their Higher Ground media company) and even the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.

But the tide is turning as we enter what many observers project to be a difficult year for the podcasting industry. As in the streaming video space, the major audio players are reportedly reining in their spending amid economic pressures, bringing the booming market of the last several years toward a close.

…as the digital ad market continues to sag in the months ahead, competition for podcast ad dollars is going to intensify further — bad news for any creator whose show is limited to a single platform.

Despite exponential growth in the number of shows available to listeners — on Spotify alone, that number grew from around 700,000 at the end of 2019 to 4.7 million in September 2022, per company reports — the podcast ad market, while still growing, has not expanded nearly as rapidly. Spotify’s US podcast ad revenue is projected to steadily increase by about 40% year-over-year through 2024, far down from the explosive growth rates of 2020 and 2021 as its podcast operations expanded.


The number of new podcasts is down significantly from last year, which isn’t really surprising: you can’t keep getting new podcasts. We’d all be obliged to have one, and guest on each other’s.
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Two days, two leaks: sensitive F-15 data posted by War Thunder fan • AeroTime

Valius Venckunas:


War Thunder – an online game in which players use various military vehicles to fight each other – has been known for its players sharing sensitive information online. 

The users usually obtain and post the materials in an attempt to convince the game’s developers to tweak the performance of the vehicles represented in the game.  

Restricted manuals and other documents about Challenger, Leclerc and Type 99 tanks, the Eurocopter Tiger attack helicopter, and other types of real-life military tech have been posted on the game’s forums. 

In most cases the documents have been available elsewhere on the internet and reposted by War Thunder users.  

The game’s forum rules forbid publishing any kind of restricted material, so in all aforementioned cases the documents were removed by the moderators or the game developers. 

The developers also do not base the in-game representations of vehicles on such materials, Anton Yudintsev, the founder of Gaijin Entertainment, said in a comment to AeroTime.


An amazing avenue for sort-of espionage: people in the armed forces who care so much about the vehicles in a game being accurate that they leak restricted manuals in forums. Priorities completely out of whack.
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Bryan Johnson, 45, ‘spends $2m annually to get 18-year-old body’ • NY Post

Ariel Zilber:


A middle-age software developer worth nine figures says he spends around $2m each year to bio-hack his body into regaining its youth.

Bryan Johnson, 45, who made his fortune in his 30s when he sold his payment processing company Braintree Payment Solutions to EBay for $800m in cash, is touting a daily routine that he says has given him the heart of a 37-year-old, the skin of a 28-year-old, and the lung capacity and fitness of an 18-year-old.

Johnson has a team of 30 doctors and regenerative health experts overseeing his regimen, he told Bloomberg News.

His goal is to eventually have all of his major organs — including his brain, liver, kidneys, teeth, skin, hair, penis and rectum — functioning as they were in his late teens, Johnson said.

The initiative, known as Project Blueprint, requires Johnson to abide by a strict vegan diet amounting to 1,977 calories per day, a daily exercise regimen that lasts an hour, high-intensity exercise three times a week, and going to bed every night at the same time.

“What I do may sound extreme, but I’m trying to prove that self-harm and decay are not inevitable,” Johnson told the outlet.


Same time to bed every night? Definitely someone in his 40s. This is like the old joke – “Will I live longer if I give up wine and chocolate and other things I like?” “No, but it will feel longer.”
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Why Google is facing its most serious antitrust challenge to date • The Verge

Casey Newton and Zoe Schiffer on the DOJ lawsuit against Google’s display (not search) advertising business:


This is not a bunch of liberals sitting around trying to redefine antitrust law around some unrelated beef about Google. This is a bunch of Democratic appointees, building on the work of their Republican predecessors, arguing that: a market got too consolidated, prices went up, and users were harmed.

Of course, the case will drag on for years, the ad industry will continue to evolve, and whatever relief consumers (and publishers) may experience if the government wins remains an open question. It would have been far preferable to me had Congress, which spent the past half-decade debating what to do about tech giants in an endless series of theatrical hearings, passed new laws regulating the terms on which companies like Google could compete.

But they didn’t, and so we live in a world where publishers are paying 30% of their revenue to Google for every ad served. You don’t have to be a progressive firebrand to wonder what sort of web we might have, and what kind of digital publishing might be sustainable, in a world where they got to keep 80% or even 90% of the money they took in.

I hope we find out. The government has filed its share of weak antitrust cases in recent years, but at first blush this doesn’t look to be one of them. Google has managed to swat away other regulators for years now with relative ease. But with the Justice Department now trained on its ad business, the company may be facing its most serious challenge yet.


Could take years before it reaches court though: a similar lawsuit filed in the US in 2020 is expected to reach the courts this year.
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Elon Musk explores raising up to $3bn to help pay off Twitter debt • WSJ

Berber Jin and Alexander Saeedy:


Elon Musk‘s team has been exploring using as much as $3bn in potential new fundraising to help repay some of the $13bn in debt tacked onto Twitter for his buyout of the company, people familiar with the matter said.

In December, Mr. Musk’s representatives discussed selling up to $3bn in new Twitter shares, people familiar with the matter said.

Mr. Musk’s team has said to people familiar with the finances of the company that an equity raise, if successful, could be used to pay down an unsecured portion of the debt that carries the highest interest rate within the $13bn Twitter loan package, people familiar with the matter said.

Paying off the debt would provide welcome financial relief to Twitter, which has struggled to keep advertisers on the platform. In November, Mr. Musk said Twitter had suffered “a massive drop in revenue” and was losing over $4m a day. He also said that month that bankruptcy was a possibility for the company, although Mr. Musk later shared more upbeat prospects for the company, saying he expects Twitter to be roughly cash-flow break-even in 2023 as he has slashed some 6,000 jobs.


The most expensive debt is the unsecured bridge loan of $3bn, which had a rate of 10% plus base rate – which has moved up now to 4.3%. Pricey.
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Twitter sued by landlord at San Francisco HQ after alleged $6.8m in missed rent payments • SF Chronicle

Roland Li:


The landlord of Twitter’s San Francisco headquarters sued the social media company on Friday after it allegedly failed to pay almost $6.8m in rent in December and January.

SRI Nine Market Square LLC alleges that Twitter did not pay rent after being served with a notice of default in December and breached its lease in a suit filed in San Francisco Superior Court. The landlord said it drew from most of Twitter’s letter of credit security deposit of $3.6m to satisfy the December rent payment, but Twitter still owes $3.1m in unpaid rent from January.

The landlord is also seeking to increase Twitter’s line of credit to $10m, based on a clause in its lease triggered by transfer of control of the company, but said Twitter has refused to do so. Elon Musk bought the company in late October for $44bn.

…Multiple landlords are now suing Twitter over alleged nonpayment of rent, including the owner of 650 California St. in San Francisco, which alleged Twitter owes $136,260 in back rent last month.

The Crown Estate, which manages property for King Charles III of the United Kingdom, also sued Twitter for alleged unpaid rent in a London office, the Telegraph reported on Monday. And Twitter was sued by its landlord over alleged unpaid rent after vacating its Seattle office.

The New York Times reported last month that Twitter stopped paying rent at all its offices in an effort to renegotiate leases and cut costs.


London offices are £2.6m++ per year. Not small change.
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The rise of Esther Crawford in Elon Musk’s ‘hardcore’ Twitter • Financial Times

Hannah Murphy:


A philosophy graduate with a masters degree in international relations, she also held product marketing roles at several Silicon Valley start-ups, and became an avid Twitter user, posting personal reflections on her life growing up in a Christian “cult” and the timing of her contractions as she gave birth.

On joining Twitter as an employee, she would be responsible for finding ways for influencers to make money from the platform, and exploring opportunities around crypto, as head of its early-stage bets.

Initially, she directed research into what creators want from the platform, according to two colleagues, one of whom said the results were “sobering” because the company had failed to adequately cater to creators by this point. Crawford then worked on plans to address their demands, which included focusing on the audio feature Spaces, one of Twitter’s most successful updates, and on creator subscriptions.

Several current and former colleagues describe her as empathetic and diplomatic: her calendar is typically open for all to see, and she buys customised mugs for team members. Her charm, combined with a start-up mentality, has earned her Musk’s trust, according to three people who have worked with her, one of whom said that she was able to influence him by challenging him tactfully behind closed doors rather than publicly.

Crawford was responsible for smoothing tensions over at Apple, two of the people said, including after Musk publicly harangued chief executive Tim Cook over fees the tech group charges developers of its app store.

Her ideas have not always been welcomed. Crawford was among the proponents for Twitter’s controversial and now-halted plan to introduce a feature that would allow users to offer videos of adult content behind a paywall similar to that posted on subscriptions site OnlyFans, according to two people familiar with the matter.

Many former staffers, meanwhile, resent her embrace of the spotlight. She regularly posts a mix of Twitter business updates and inspirational corporate speak to her 50,000 followers.


Resentment is a strong emotion which often blinds people to reality. Seems to me Crawford is making the best of what she’s been handed – which is an absolute dog’s dinner.
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Open rates and keywords are dead: here’s why · One Man & His Blog

Adam Tinworth:


Giving things up is never easy, but it’s deeply beneficial to us. Whether it’s letting go of past slights, decluttering our homes — or finally abandoning publishing recieved wisdom that is dragging you backwards in 2023.

So, here’s either a late set of New Year’s Resolutions or an early list of things publishers should give up for Lent — and for the foreseeable future, too. And they’re all based on mistakes I’ve seen publishers making over the last year or so.


“Open rates” – how many people bothered to look at your missive – is a particular one he criticises, along with SEO keywords, Twitter, TikTok (controversial!) and Google Analytics. His explanations for why are a good overview of how the web is shifting.
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GoTo security breach update confirms hackers stole customer backups – The Verge

Umar Shakir:


The company, which was formerly known as LogMeIn, is updating its blog post about the breach for the first time since November 30th, when GoTo confirmed “unusual activity” within its development environment and cloud storage service.

Many of GoTo’s enterprise products were affected, including Central, Pro,, Hamachi, and RemotelyAnywhere. GoTo CEO Paddy Srinivasan writes that a hacker “exfiltrated encrypted backups from a third-party cloud storage service” and acquired the encryption key for a portion of them — nearly two months ago. The information taken varies by product but “may include account usernames, salted and hashed passwords, a portion of Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) settings, as well as some product settings and licensing information.”

Encrypted databases for the more well-known GoToMyPC remote computer software and Rescue were not taken by the attackers; however, “MFA settings of a small subset of their customers were impacted.”

GoTo is apparently contacting affected customers directly to provide additional info as well as support for what actions to take. Passwords for their accounts will be reset “out of an abundance of caution,” and MFA will also be reauthorized. Srinivasan also wrote that affected accounts will be migrated to a different Identity Management Platform for additional security, one with “more robust authentication and login-based security options.”


All the writeups I’ve seen have, as grizzled news writers say, buried the intro (“lede” in the US): the hackers got the encryption key for a chunk of the customer backups, which means they have probably already decrypted them. And if you’re a LastPass customer, there’s no way to know if you’re one of the people in that chunk. Which means, if you’re a LastPass customer, it’s time to change all your passwords – and, of course, stop using LastPass.
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• Why do social networks drive us a little mad?
• Why does angry content seem to dominate what we see?
• How much of a role do algorithms play in affecting what we see and do online?
• What can we do about it?
• Did Facebook have any inkling of what was coming in Myanmar in 2016?

Read Social Warming, my latest book, and find answers – and more.

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

1 thought on “Start Up No.1938: why platforms die, podcasts exit walled gardens, War Thunder leakers, Twitter’s money trouble, and more

  1. If Mr. Johnson, having more money than most people will have in several lifetimes, wishes to devote it to making sure his own lifetime is as long *and healthy* as possible – well, that strikes me as quite a reasonable undertaking. To be sure, he could very easily extend the life and health of many others, and that might be a more laudable use of the money. However, in the broad scheme of things on which rich people spend money, it’s far from the worst. Moreover, he doesn’t seem to be going into mysticism or “woo”, but is apparently at least trying to do science (with himself as the subject), which makes it even more worthwhile in my mind.

    I think he’s going to reach limits in what can be done. At the core it’s nothing more than exercise and eat right. After that, diminishing returns set in rapidly. But the journey has many positive aspects, especially if he’s rigorous about data. I certainly wouldn’t boo/sneer at him (*techbro*) for trying. If he actually comes up with some medical calculations that can help make people even a little healthier overall, that’s very praiseworthy.

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