Typically in a network, you pay to join (free time). The network relies on you recruiting other people to join up and to part with their free time. For everyone in the network to make a profit, (from likes to $ later on) though, there needs to be an endless supply of new members. In reality, the number of people willing to join the network, and ultimately the amount of money coming into said network will dry up very quickly as negative network effects like context collapse. So if every set of dumb network effect produces wealth for the early network who then sell out to the late network who by then will experience things getting worse with every additional member as they can’t find a sucker later on. Say the network has a central point of failure which goes unidentified or one that even if identified does not lead to redundancy buildup, ie ghost towns, MySpace. Network effects shape narrative and have morphed capitalism into a technology rapidly approaching some form of necrosis. The construct of market concentration and increasing returns is a game of strategic positioning and building up a user base to the point where “lock in” of dominant players occur. This is nothing new, pay to play, clientelism have been with us in one form or another for a v long time but they all have an event horizon in which people, induced by the large signal of a network size, ultimately suffer from asymmetric risk and experience a loss of net worth. When dumb network effects wear off networks build around healthcare, housing, education and food the landscape is ripe for anti-social outcomes. The design to fail nature of products goal is to distribute the promise of advantage to the unsuspecting who then pay by becoming permanently disadvantaged.

The concept of “design to fail” refers to a strategy where a product, service, or system is intentionally designed in a way that initially appears beneficial to users but ultimately leads to negative outcomes for those users in the long run. This approach exploits people’s initial enthusiasm and optimism to draw them in, often resulting in financial or other disadvantages over time. Let’s break down this idea further:

1. Promise of Advantage: In the initial stages, a product designed to fail presents itself as a solution that offers advantages, benefits, or opportunities to users. These advantages might include financial gains, improved well-being, increased convenience, or enhanced social status. This promise of advantage serves to attract and engage users, convincing them that they are making a wise decision by participating.

2. Unsuspecting Users: Users who are attracted by the initial promise of advantage are often unsuspecting of the underlying mechanisms or potential downsides of the product. They may not be fully informed about the risks, complexities, or long-term consequences associated with using the product. This lack of awareness is essential for the strategy to work.

3. Gradual Disadvantage: Over time, the design flaws or hidden pitfalls within the product become apparent. These flaws might manifest as increased costs, diminished benefits, loss of control, or negative effects on well-being. As users become more invested in the product or service, they may find it difficult to disentangle themselves from it, especially if they have already invested time, money, or emotional attachment.

4. Permanently Disadvantaged: The ultimate goal of the “design to fail” strategy is to keep users engaged long enough to make it difficult for them to extricate themselves from the product’s negative effects. This can lead to users becoming permanently disadvantaged, whether financially, socially, or in terms of their overall well-being. Users might find themselves trapped in situations where they cannot easily recover their initial investment or regain the advantages they were promised.

Examples of “design to fail” strategies can be found in various contexts, including:

  • Pyramid Schemes: Participants are promised financial gains by recruiting others into the scheme. The early participants benefit from the recruitment of later participants, but the system eventually collapses, leaving the majority at a financial loss.
  • Certain Subscription Models: Some services offer free or low-cost trials to attract users, but later charge high subscription fees, making it challenging for users to cancel and resulting in unexpected long-term costs.
  • Social Media Addiction: Social media platforms can initially provide positive social interactions and connection, but over time, users might experience negative effects on mental health, privacy concerns, and addiction.

The “design to fail” concept highlights the importance of consumer awareness, ethical business practices, and regulatory oversight. As users, it’s essential to critically evaluate products and services, consider potential long-term consequences, and be cautious of deals that seem too good to be true. For businesses, responsible design, transparency, and a focus on creating sustainable value for users are crucial for building trust and long-term success.

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