TMW #160 | Ecosystems, entropy, and rebellion

Feb 4, 2024

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Ecosystems, entropy, and rebellion

Apple and Google’s unfair app stores

Recently, there have been numerous headlines surrounding the rapidly changing landscape of what I’m calling “ecosystems,” but you may know them as the Apple App Store or the Google Play Store –huge marketplaces of digital goods and services. 

It reminds me of the 13th-century Peasants’ Revolt, the first uprising of poor English “peasants” against a monarchy that recklessly misspent tax funds on useless wars and extravagant palaces. It ended with the massacre of John of Gaunt – a man who had twice the wealth of the next wealthy Englishman – and forced the government to negotiate better terms for workers, which included the abolition of serfdom and forced labor. 

In this picture, the king of England, Richard II, addresses a huge army of these peasants on the right while their leader gets a swift beheading. 

Picture 1
Source: The British Library (Public Domain)

What is fascinating about this period is that it represents the first major recorded attempt at a revolution by people who were not part of the ruling elite. 

And while there will unlikely be any bloodshed for the situation that Apple and Google have found themselves in, there’s definitely something brewing under these headlines that reminds me of the Peasants’ Revolt. You have all the ingredients: "royalty” organizations that have way too much influence over the flow of information and capital; a disaffected community of “peasant” software developers wanting to get a fairer share; and a nearly impenetrable system that can only change with violent solutions. You also have companies, for the first time, actively rebelling against the system that Apple and Google have created and perpetuated. 

The consequences of these open rebellions, public criticism, and appeals to regulators have a significant influence over how online marketplaces and ecosystems work in the online economy. 

So what happened? Who are the peasants of the digital age and what has gone wrong with the Apple and Google Play app stores? Let’s find out. 

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