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The hypergrowth era and “Rot-Com” boom of Big Tech may be on the decline, but affiliate could rise from the ashes.

Written by Brook Schaaf

There is a rather sour character whose thoughts have fascinated me for several weeks now. Ed Zitron (whose name is, fittingly, quite close to the German word for lemon) writes a blog called “Where’s Your Ed At” and hosts a podcast called “Better Offline” featuring the same jeremiads in spoken word. 

His style is acerbic and he is a prophet of doom, at least for Big Tech. In particular, he writes about something he calls the Rot Economy of the tech industry, which pursues growth at all costs: “It means that the company is generating more revenue, higher valuations, gaining more market share, and then finding more ways to generate these things.” 

The Rot-Com Bubble is the idea that this growth is not to be had, at least not for the foreseeable future, because it’s just one hype cycle after another. In his view, around 2019 “tech started to feel iterative rather than innovative, and by 2021, even the pretense of gradual improvement was dropped. It felt like they were trying to sell us things that didn’t actually exist.”

He cites NFTs, crypto, the metaverse, and AI as examples of this trend. By my read of his work, he’d readily acknowledge that these technologies appear impressive but he’d argue that they haven’t really brought any game-changing functionality to the market (or vastly expanded the market) in contrast to “search engines, digital maps, smartphones and apps, social media, cloud computing, Software-as-a-Service, electric cars, streaming audio and video, and nearly tripling the amount of people that use the internet.”

I know his point about functionality is undoubtedly contentious for many but bear with me — “the majority of the internet’s top 100 web properties have seen significant declines in traffic since 2021.” Indeed, he goes back further to name 2019 as the year when traffic to many major sites (admittedly not including mobile apps) started to decline, according to Similarweb. 

“I believe we’re at the end of the Rot-Com boom — the tech industry’s hyper-growth cycle where there were so many lands to conquer, so many new ways to pile money into so many new, innovative ideas that it felt like every tech company could experience perpetual growth simply by throwing money at the problem.” 

I think he may be correct. If so, what follows from this? Among other things, the monetization of existing traffic becomes more important. Per the Affiliate Hypothesis, the walled gardens will undoubtedly prefer their own advertising networks, but might accept affiliate monetization for Commercial Links that cannot otherwise be placed. Case in point: the YouTube [Sub] Affiliate Program. 

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