Noah Brier | July 6, 2023

The Balance of Power Edition

On companies, employees, and reassessments

Noah here. There is a lot of drama on Reddit. Ostensibly a reaction to being used as training data for AI models, Reddit has decided to jack the price of its API through the roof, restricting most of the apps and tools folks use on a regular basis. One group this affects, in particular, is the unpaid moderators who make the platform work. They rely on a bunch of tools that utilize the API to help them do their (unpaid) job more effectively. In response to the changes, the mods, as they call themselves, went on strike, often taking their communities down with them (they didn’t kill them, just flipped them to private so none of the thousands or millions of members could access them). 

This obviously hasn’t been looked upon kindly by Reddit, and things have come to a head with the company threatening the moderators to open up or lose their communities.

Why is this interesting?

A few weeks ago, I was out in San Francisco and met up with a friend of mine who has spent his career in the tech industry. Eventually, the conversation moved to layoffs, and he made a point I hadn’t really considered: one of the things these layoffs have achieved for the large organizations involved is a shifting of the balance of power back to the company and away from the employee.

As the tech industry grew over the last decade, the demand for employees also rose. And so did salaries, benefits, perks, and the like. Then COVID hit, and consumer demand skyrocketed for software of all kinds, and we all know how frothy the world of tech became. Employees were allowed to move anywhere in the country, work from wherever they wanted, and retain their city-centric salary. As COVID finally began to calm, companies assessed what was going on—and the huge amounts they were spending on offices—and decided it was time for employees to come home. But that didn’t really work, as many of these people were hired without expectations of coming to a physical space, and many others had moved out of reasonable range for an office. In the eyes of the companies, something had to give.

Then, as the COVID gains in tech began to recede last year, companies looked at their size—many times larger than it was in 2019—and decided to make a change. It’s been a brutal few months in the industry as every day, there’s a headline about another ten- or twenty-percent reduction. But while I assumed it was mainly a correction for the explosion in size from those fat COVID months, it’s interesting to consider that maybe it’s also the companies trying to balance more power back to them. 

Taken with the Reddit situation and many others like it, I can’t help but wonder if this is a bigger trend of companies and their users/employees reassessing the power balance. You could count the widespread move to unionization in media along these same lines. I don’t know how things will turn out, but I hope it leads to new ideas and organizations and not just a reset to our pre-COVID days. (NRB)


Thanks for reading,

Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN)

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