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Studying app ecologies: Mapping apps and their support networks


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In: ‘Mobile Interface Methods: Towards an App Analysis’, Universität Siegen, Germany, November 10–11.

In: ‘App Studies: Platform Rules and Methodological Challenges’ (PA-14: Apps), Annual Conference of the Association of Internet Researchers (AoIR 2016): ‘Internet Rules!,’ Berlin, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Germany, October 5–8.

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Studying app ecologies: Mapping apps and their support networks

  1. 1. Studying app ecologies: Mapping apps and their support networks Fernando van der Vlist (University of Siegen / University of Amsterdam) Anne Helmond (University of Amsterdam) ‘Mobile Interface Methods: Towards an App Analytics’, Universität Siegen, 10–11 November 2016 w/ Carolin Gerlitz and Esther Weltevrede
  2. 2. Interfacing apps and platform studies ● Move beyond studying apps from a single medium perspective. ● Intricate relation between apps and platforms: platform incentive developers to build on top of their data and features. ● Aim: understand apps as relational and situated software entities.
  3. 3. Creating conditions for app development ● Characteristics of social media platforms: ○ 1. Programmability (Bogost & Montfort 2009; Helmond 2015) ○ 2. Affordances and constraints (Langlois & Elmer 2013) ○ 3. Involvement of heterogeneous stakeholders (Gillespie 2010) ● Developers realise the programmability and interpretative flexibility (Bijker & Pinch 1987) of platforms.
  4. 4. Making engagement with platforms visible ● How do developers engage with platform data and features? How do they recombine, expand, reinterpret and twist it? ● What relations between platforms and apps emerge? ● New method repurposes app stores to identify and map apps built on top of or in relation to platforms.
  5. 5. 1. Create a selection of apps/platforms/games Method
  6. 6. 2. Query Google Play separately for each of the selected apps: [Facebook], [Twitter], [Instagram], and [Snapchat]
  7. 7. 3. Get URLs for all results
  8. 8. 4. Strip app IDs from URLs (e.g.
  9. 9. 5. Input app IDs, one per line, into DMI Google Play Similar Apps
  10. 10. 6. Tool is running…
  11. 11. 7. Tool fetches app details and app details for “Similar” apps
  12. 12. Data fields and outputs Available data fields (by section): ● Header: id, title, category, price, link, developer_name, developer_link, img_src_large, img_src_small, description ● ‘Read more’: long_description ● ‘My Review’: rating, rating_count ● ‘Additional information’: num_downloads, published, filesize, software, os, pegi, developer_address ● ‘Similar’: related_to Output formats: ● .HTML, .CSV (tabular) ● .GEXF (network)
  13. 13. Missing data Permissions > View details: “This app has access to: …”
  14. 14. 8. Emergent categorisation based on app self-descriptions
  15. 15. Types of relating to platforms 1. Popularity growth and strategic engagement 2. Enhancing platform functions 3. Adding functionalities
  16. 16. Facebook sunburst
  17. 17. Twitter sunburst
  18. 18. Zoom: 100% 2. Sharing, Scheduling, ... 3. Content Downloading 4. Cameras, Editors, ... Facebook alternative clients
  19. 19. Zoom: 100% 2. Content Sharing 3. App Customisation 4. Content Downloading Twitter alternative clients
  20. 20. Instagram sunburst
  21. 21. 1. Editor 3.Manager 4. Monitor Zoom: 100% Instagram added functionalities
  22. 22. Snapchat sunburst
  23. 23. 1. Editor 2. Functionality 3. Friends Zoom: 100% Snapchat guides
  24. 24. Conditions for app development Implications of API politics: 1. Relatively few alternative clients and readers (for Instagram and Snapchat) 2. Relatively few content aggregation and search-related apps 3. Relative absence of automated and bot-related apps (for Twitter)
  25. 25. Negotiating platform openness and closure ● Platforms create the conditions within which app development with/on top of their data can take place. ● API politics (cf. Bucher 2013) are a central means to regulate openness and closure of the platform’s ‘interpretative flexibility’. ● Negotiation typically involves a variety of stakeholders (platforms, developers, users).
  26. 26. From platform politics to stakeholder politics Stakeholder politics: ● How developers twist and tweak platform data and features to make them fit their own objectives and valuation regimes. ● Intersecting developers + platforms + users. ● Understanding stakeholder politics contributes to both apps and platform studies – allowing to study apps as situated software and platforms as open/closed towards various users.
  27. 27. Technicity of Religion (2015) ● To study apps as indicators of cultural differences and/or religious specificity. ● Apps are used to ‘perform a religion’ (e.g., differences between Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism) Alternative approaches: Theme/issue-oriented → Project slides: u-OP4fG0VfdT6oG7vCJdQNKcGNUo4tCVvrIQ/e dit?usp=sharing
  28. 28. Secure/Encrypted Messaging App Ecologies (2016) ● To study secure messaging as an issue within the chat/messaging app space ● Using self-descriptions of apps to study how they are positioning themselves, in relation to which issues (e.g., security versus usability, using which encryption standards/protocols) Alternative approaches: Genre-oriented → Project slides: 64WL9C0o8TpotTMNJXHqaRqRlNhvuuqgZ0zU/ edit?usp=sharing
  29. 29. Thank you