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Disenshittifying the Web, one piece at a time

Last week I rounded up a number of articles with a similar theme–reweirding the web. Toward the end of that piece I quickly referenced a project I started a few weeks back, Project Disenshittify–catchy name I know (there’s a story there, read on).

So, here’s the story of how that came do be, what it’s about, and even how you might help disenshittify the web one web app at a time.

A handful of times a year, for years, I have needed to created a QR code for slides. My go to has long been a service from a well known link shortener. Recently, for the first time in a few months, I used that to create a new QR Code and went to download it only to discover it was now a paid service.

I am not against paying for things, but

  1. deceptive pattern of allowing me to do a thing up to a point then asking me having made the investment of my time and effort to create the thing with no heads up I’d have to pay for what was until now a free service, do not want to reward
  2. Come on, paying a subscription to create a QRCode? I pay for a lot of subscriptions, from the noun project to font as a service companies, and much in between, but seriously for creating QR codes–maybe if I were making lots all the time.

So I went looking for alternatives. The first few results on Google Search required at the very least an email or account setup. Every service had as least some advertising or analytics (usually both typically multiple of both).

And that’s before the question of what happens to any URL I convert to a QR code. Those associated with link shorteners track them, but what about the others? What if it is a private or semi private link? I know security by obscurity is a very poor policy, but most people won’t stop to think about this stuff–they just need a QR code. 

It struck me this is a good example of what Cory Doctorow calls enshittification–only writ small. Doctorow’s thesis is

It’s a three-stage process: first, platforms are good to their users. Then they abuse their users to make things better for their business customers. Finally, they abuse those business customers to claw back all the value for themselves. Then, there is a fourth stage: they die.

Doctorow is talking about Platforms, like Facebook (and Google and Youtube) but I think it’s a process that works at smaller scales too, like with QR Code creators (and recipe websites–yes I hear a screaming–”just give me the effing recipe” ). Now, when things go bad in really big systemic ways it can feel challenging for individuals to do anything about it. But it occurred to me that in my own tiny almost completely insignificant way I could deshittify at least a small part of the Web–QR Code creation.

I asked myself how hard can it be really to make one–surely some unappreciated person had built a JavaScript library that generates QR codes? Turns out of course they have. Not in Nebraska, but some guy in Korea had (no not North Korea calm down). 12 years ago

And it also turns out when another person has done almost all the work making a QR code creator isn’t much work at all!

And then, because I’m vainglorious and love tilting at windmills I thought why not encourage others to deshittify little bits of the web themselves and then help amplify their efforts? And so the Disenshittify project was born. I actually liked the term “unshittify” (you know enshittify/unshittify) but when I floated that name Doctorow himself responded. Cool! Though to correct me: 

Mastodon interchange between John Allsopp and Cory Doctorow. John says "Next let's make 'unshittify' a thing. An aspiration. To unshittify that which has been
enshittified. @pluralistic" Doctorow replies "@johnallsopp it's 'disenshittify'"

OK Cory. Sheesh 😉.

So let me announce The unshittify Disenshittify Project–Disenshittifying the Web one small step at a time

The Disenshittify Manifesto

Disenshittify the Web one small step at a time.

While the enshittification of the Web (and beyond) might seem far greater than any individual can even make the slightest dent in–you, we, can deshittify the Web one small piece at a time. Something you like or use or do that’s become enshittified? Disenshittify it.

  • Not a developer? Make a suggestion for something you’d like to see Disenshittified.
  • You are a developer and not sure where to start? Why not choose something off the list.

Quite a few folks have suggested projects of their own that align with this one, or made suggestions for possible additions. So do check it out!

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this was a masterfully curated event … a brilliant day that educated, entertained, and rekindled some old connections

Ash Donaldson Service & Behaviour Design Director, Tobias
Portrait of Ash Donaldson