Friday, May 15, 2009

Etnographic working paper with results of Indie Fever online

It has been awile since I posted to this blog, too little time to write down interesting stuff for the outside world while I was working hard to write down stuff for the inside world (academia).
It is also going to be one of the last posts on this blog since I will rejuventate my web presence this summer with a more general blog and website concerning my ongoing research projects in economic and cultural geography, innovation studies and a few other things that are in the pipeline.

Nevertheless, I have been busy lately to write a few working papers that highlight some of the research findings in Indie Fever tailored to different ongoing social scientific debates. The paper that this post links to is the first result of that endeavor that I think is ready to share with the outside world. It is an attempt to frame the culture of the Indie community into the ethnographic tradition in social science. It is a working paper -not yet  submitted to any academic journal- so feel free to get in touch and provide any comments. I am currently working on two more: one is a social network analysis of Indie Twitter contacts, the other is a framing of the research findings into  ongoing discussions on the 'cultural economy'  and the 'creative class'. So if you like this one, keep in touch for more.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Question 1: the status of Carbon programming in 2008?

An important function of this blog is trying to have a channel to communicate about the contents of Indie Fever and thereby to improve the understanding of the Mac Indie world and with it the quality of information in the subsequent research phases.

In a blog post Kevin Waltzer points to the fact that I downplayed the importance of contemporary Carbon development in the Mac Indie community. In his words: "It even goes so far as to assert that independent Carbon development, for all intents and purposes, is dead.". I did did not use that exact phrase, the closest to it is 'When it was announced in 2007 that 64 bit Carbon support was not going to be part of future operating systems it finally became obvious that Cocoa was the unquestionable future of Mac OS X'. (page 24,25, all information on Carbon is in paragraph 2.3). But Kevin is right in the fact that the research and the interviews gave me a strong impression that Carbon development by now should be regarded a transitionary programming environment. Without knowing what kind of technology they used in advance it turned out that all my interviewees were either Cocoa developers or developers who only used Carbon if they had no other choice. Carbon was an interview topic, but most of the interviewees interpreted Carbon as a technology which was not extensively used by smaller Mac developers. According to Kevin, I am at least partly wrong.

The primary objective of the research program is not to give an exhaustive overview of technological possibilities, neither to judge upon the qualities of it. The primary objective is to understand the economics and the underlying social and cultural roots of Mac Indie development. But it is true that the thesis concludes that the attractiveness of Cocoa is a significant motivation for Mac development. Most of the collective resources (sites, tutorials, blog posts) seem to have a strong tendency to emphasize Cocoa development. Kevin’s remarks do raise a few questions on the contemporary role of Carbon development. As I understand from his post there still are a significant number of Carbon Indie companies active.

-Are these 'older' companies ? (with all respect to old software and companies, old does not necessarily mean dated)
-How big is the Carbon Indie world compared to the Cocoa world?
-How many new Carbon applications are under development today?
-How interconnected are the Carbon and Cocoa Indies?
-Are there Indie companies around doing both Carbon and Cocoa development?
-Do they use the same non-Apple resources?
-Do Carbon developers see a future for Carbon development?
-Are there any (non-technical) aspects of Carbon development different from Cocoa development (different culture, different ethos)?

Summarized: how are the findings of the thesis applicable to Carbon developers?, what did I miss out on in the research (apart from the fact that paragraph 2.3 could have had more nuance)?

Some of these questions I will be able to tackle in the quantitative survey which is scheduled for october/november. But quantitative research (an online questionnaire) has limitations when it comes to interpretation of results. Kevin’s blog post does point to the fact that I will need to interview a ‘Carbon Indie’. Suggestions of whom to talk to are welcome, as are any thoughts on this subject, because I might have missed an important angle here.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Indie Fever available for download

My thesis on Mac Indie developers –Indie Fever– is now available for download. You can get it at:

One of the reasons I started this blog is to have a public channel to communicate about the contents of the thesis. So if you have any remarks/comments/additions feel welcome to leave a message. There is a lot of history in the thesis and the developers perspective has not always been written down by someone yet. So if you have another angle on something in the thesis, I'd be glad to hear about it.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

1.0 Out the door (at university)

When I went out to the US to research the Independent Mac community I was full of high hopes to write about all the experiences that come with the research on this blog. It did not take long to find out that writing blog posts is a form of writing and therefore is subject to all the musing and creative blockages that come with writing. As a result this is the third post on this blog, and it is for announcing the initial results of the research and not about all the questions that occurred while doing the research.

Despite that I am proud to announce that analyzing the interviews, wandering around the Indies' their blog history and working through ‘the shelf’ (all the books that were neccesary to frame the Indie world scientifically, each little sticky is a potential reference) did generate results: it is out the door. The thesis is called: “Indie Fever, The genesis, culture and economy of independent software developers on the Macintosh platform”. The title was inspired by a blogpost from Daniel Jalkut and captures the spirit of the thesis so well that I was unable to come up with a different better title. (I just hope Daniel does not mind).

At this moment a hardcover copy is being reviewed at the university. Tomorrow I will hear whether it is officially accepted and if that is the case (as I suspect), it will be available for download at the beginning of next week.

It was a challenge to give all the perspectives that were revealed in the interviews an appropriate place and I hope the result is something that Indie developers will recognize. But if people disagree on certain aspects I would really appreciate feedback. Tracing back the social non-technical origins of Cocoa and its developer community relies on a lot of (often not written down) stories as do the remarks on Indie culture and there might be angles on those stories out there that I was unable to grasp yet. I think it would be really nice if there are any missing puzzle pieces that a collective feedback effort is able to fill those gaps. Of course it is difficult to give feedback when the actual writing is not yet there, so I will return here to discuss all issues that people can come up with once others get the chance to read the actual thesis. And since I don't have to write a big book anymore (it is 105 pages) I will probably have enough writing energy left to get to them really soon.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Back in Amsterdam with luxurious problems

It has been almost more then a month since we arrived back in Amsterdam from our US fieldtrip and supplying the indie community with some information on the research progress is at least a bit overdue. To start: the US tour has been overwhelmingly successful. We came home with 16 interviews with a total length of almost 50 hours. I’m deeply grateful for the amount of commitment that the indie mac community has shown to tell their story. All the people we interviewed took a great effort to make clear to us what being an indie mac developer means and the results look very promising. Practicing social science isn’t usually that ‘easy’. Mac indie programmers are self-employed; they run a software business, and business usually means that time is money. The fact that so many indies took whole mornings and afternoons off to talk to us is already one commonality that says something about the sort of people that do this work.

This did imply that doing the interviews was a lot more demanding than I expected. And doing 16 of them in three weeks did leave me rather exhausted. Moreover I took some time to reflect on everything I heard, seen and felt and I first had to solve puzzles in my head about what would be the ideal way to convert the huge amount of information I had gathered into a good scientific story. 50 hours of interviews means over 700 pages of interview transcripts and my typing skills are put to the test. It also takes much more time then I expected: transcribing a single interview takes days. But despite that I am really pleased to announce that the first transcripts will go back to the interviewees this weekend for review. Transcribing them is an intensive and interesting experience: learning why people do what they do, feel their motivations and passion and see the effects. It is something that is often undervalued in economic science and showing that perspective without losing the bigger picture is one of the big challenges I have been crunching my brain about. But the availability of such a rich data set is a luxurious position to be in as a social scientist.

Another luxury that has been ‘bothering’ me is the potential influence of the Iphone SDK on the Mac indie developer community. It would be scientifically a really interesting thing to do to get a quantitative survey out as soon as possible to be able to measure the long-term effects of it, but that would completely mess up my research schedule. At this moment I am trying to convince the university to broaden the scope of the research to include these developments and give the research project a 2.5 years perspective.

What all of this comes down to is a bit more patience. I’ll try to keep this blog updated more often from now on, and include some reflections on the scientific approach I intent to use. Until that it’s just bathing in the luxurious inconvenience of having a research subject that is interesting but evolving faster then one man can research it.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Researching the indie mac developer community

Is there something in the air? A social scientist should always ask questions and do research before attempting to formulate answers, but there is certainly something happening in the world of independent mac sofware development. The number of visitors to WWDC seems to grow each year, the mac platform has gained enourmous popularity with consumers and telling from several blogs, there seems to be a vibrant discussion on the internet on topics like macheist or how to deal with the recently updated Apple human interface guidelines. So it seems like there is something happening in the mac indie world. But who are these 'indies'?, how big is this phenomenon? what does Apple Inc. have to do with it? These are the kinds of questions we've been asking ourselves and we are currently travelling along the US West Coast looking for answers.

My name is Michiel van Meeteren an I am a student in human geography at the university of Amsterdam. The indie mac developer world will be the research subject of an important part of my studies. This topic is fascinating in a lot of respects: Scientifically it touches on the debate of the creative class, the influence of techies in the contemporary world economy and the opportunities of small entrepreneurship in a world of big multinational computer firms. But it's also culturally relevant: who are these people that start their own independent companies and what makes them thrive?

These ideas first came to me witnessing the new life my friend Dirk Stoop fell into after co-founding madebysofa in Amsterdam. Soon it became more and more clear to me that the indie mac world is quite different from what an outsider like me has come to expect from the clich├ęs often used to describe software developers. Eventually Dirk and I started making crazy plans and committed ourselves to research it, which brought me to a hotel room in San Francisco, writing this first post. We feel it's time to put our own impressions on the net. Over the coming months we'll use this blog to keep you up to date on the progress of our research project. Don't expect overly juicy details; we are bound to privacy regulations regarding who we interviewed and what they confided to us, but there will still be plenty of impressions to read about.

I hope the end result will be a thesis in which the indie mac community can recognize itself, but which also assesses its significance to the wider world. If you think you can contribute, please chime in in the comments or drop us an email.