Crap and gold

There’s a lot of crap on the internet. But there’s also a lot of gold.

That’s usually fine. You ignore the crap, and enjoy the gold.

Except when you start using certain platforms. Products like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and TikTok.

On these platforms, crap and gold mix freely. If you want the gold, you have to put up with the crap.

You might think it strange that the crap is shown to you at all, since you’d think it makes your experience of the platform worse.

It’s because of the concept of variable rewards. In Hooked, a book about making addictive products, author Nir Eyal says that a key part of addictiveness is using a system of variable rewards, where a user does not always know what to expect when they are using the product.

Much like a slot machine, you might ‘win’, by getting something you want, or ‘lose’, by getting something you don’t. A slot machine needs there to be crap outcomes. Likewise, addictive platforms need there to be crap.

So platforms have to make sure there’s lots of crap to keep you addicted. They also show you crap to make money, in other words adverts. Most adverts are crap, most of the time.

So what you end up with is a highly addictive platform where you have both crap and gold, and you find it hard to leave because you value the gold so highly.

Is it worth being on platforms like this, where you are forced to put up with a mixed bag of crap and gold that you have no control over?

I don’t think so. But we all are.