Cassette tapes that ran Apple programming back around 1978

Some more notes on the Spotify kerfuffle

This post is a rambling continuation of another one here. Do you need to read that one first? I have no idea.

The Spotify story just keeps on giving. What's neat about it is how many cultural zeitgeists and trends are mashed in a single event. We've got capitalism vs. social responsibility, science literacy vs ignorance, the cult of celebrity, the belief in consumer choice as a source of political and social activism, platform terms of service being substituted as the law of the land on regulating free speech, data rights, privacy, creator control and fair compensation, copyright, and etc. etc. etc. It's all here. The world will burn to an algorithmically generated playlist.

Since Spotify decided to go with Joe Rogan's podcast over Neil Young's music in Young's ultimatum over the talk show's repeated amplifying of pandemic and vaccine misinformation, the platform's market value has lost $4 billion. With its stock dropping 25%, Joni Mitchell and other performers announcing or rumoured to be considering pulling off of Spotify, it's an amazing little surge of creators showing what control can look like.

My premium account expired yesterday, and so it goes. Spotify has a good user interface. The algorithm is also fairly decent at pitching tunes I'll likely enjoy. For the WFH years of this pandemic, it really was in the background a lot of the time, as I assume it had been for a lot of people. I don't think it's a coincidence that Spotify's value surged as more people were cut off from the outside world, sort of like how the plague times helped Amazon. And again, no one paid attention to the fact that Joe Rogan had a platform there until Spotify decided it was worth paying him $100 million to quit Apple Music and any other platform. So, all around, the teachable lesson here is that platforms should let creators upload where they want, and instead compete for them via better compensation models instead of high-stake gambling of exclusivity.

The official Napster client runs on an original iBook running Mac OS 9. The Search and Transfer Manager windows are visible. Several MP3 downloads are underway over a dialup Internet connection. (Wikimedia)

The official Napster client runs on an original iBook running Mac OS 9. The Search and Transfer Manager windows are visible. Several MP3 downloads are underway over a dialup Internet connection. (Source: Wikimedia)

What I also really appreciate from the whole embroglio imbroglio is that people are once again talking about copyright and other forms of file streaming. Napster, Limewire, and a load of other pre-web services allowed for decentralised and ubiquitous file sharing. Metalica may not have liked it but it was good for others in getting attention and interest in their live gigs. Performers didn't really win in the copyright wars. Listeners certainly didn't. We had all these great running between apps, decentralised, networks of fans, running FTP hosts or being torrent seeders (still around to some extent).

What this isn't really about is free speech, though it works in Spotify's interests to frame it that way. It of course has the legal right to host Rogan and any other podcaster it likes. It doesn't have the right to demand market value, subscribers or people looking at their ads. Free speech protection is not about the right to profits.

Related, but at a lower volume, e-newsletter service Substack came under fire last week over the hight volume of anti-vaccine pundits are using its service to reach and grow their audiences. Apparently, these content creators have earned a combine $2.5 milion a year from their Substack subscribers. Now, who know's how may of these wingnuts there are and how much of that amount each is getting. I imagine there are a few bigger voices taking the most of it and then some fringe of the fringe group getting the rest. But Substack gets a percentage of that whole amount, so it's definitely profiting off of covid-29 disinformation.

Substack's says it doesn't do content moderation and respects free speech. It's a different situation to Spotify in one very key way: Substack is not buying these people exclusively for its platform. It's not giving a writer several million dollars to just publish on Substack. These writers have kind of an equal footing as any other content creator on Substack. I actually don't think Substack should "censor" content creators either, and Substack does seem to put some money behind it's free speech mantra.

Still, in its own blog post defending its policy, there are a lot of concepts muddled together, essentially to protect a a business model. Substack is a vanity press. That's fine. The internet runs on them. It's not countering society's "trust problem" with the media. The trust problem is not a free speech problem, it's a media literacy problem. In many ways, Substack works against solving the trust problem, it provides a platform for people to bypass the public scrutiny that builds credibility. At the end of the day, it's an e-newsletter tool. It's hip MailChimp. You know that line "politics is show business for ugly people," right? Exchange "politics" with Substack and "show business" with Onlyfans. That's Substack. This is why it gets the anti-vaxxes, the QAnons, and the White Nationalists. Not sure how that builds trust. 

At the center of all of this is the commodity of providing a platform or infrastructure that allows others to express themselves. This then becomes a set of business decisions, mundane, boring and based on bottom lines. Substack, Spotify, Facebook, or whatever other commercial platforms you want to include here are not advocacy organisations. They exist to monetise human behaviours. There are things people want to do on the web, and they exist to facilitate that to turn a profit, through subscriptions, ads, monetising user data or whatever else can be thought of. So long as the free speech protection debate is muddled with profit motives of content platforms, it will be defined as whatever happens to be in the best interest of business, which can always change. Platform terms of service are a horrible substitute for good laws and protection of rights.

This article was updated on 30 January 2022