The Platform Ecosystem Paradox: The Implications of App-Platform Integration Design

Project: Research

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This project is a part of a long-term study that investigates how different types of relationship between apps and the platform affect the survival and sustainability of the platform ecosystem. We draw on the biology literature to understand how these different types of relationship may lead to different outcomes (e.g., mutualism, commensalism, parasitism, etc.).Software platform ecosystems, such as Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android, are emerging as the dominant model for software-based services. Leveraging the advantage of their extensible technological architectures, platforms extend their product boundaries by attracting large numbers of third-party applications that create complementary value. To accelerate third-party development in ecosystems, platform owners have given up their integration requirements on apps’ functionality extensions to leave apps more autonomy in development.On the other hand, prior studies in the product line strategy literature have shown that proper integration of new products (i.e., new apps in our case) with the existing product (i.e., platform in our case) could deliver extra value to the new products, existing products, and end-users. The proposed study aims to investigate this critical tension between apps’ developmental autonomy and integration with platforms. We draw upon the principle of entitativity in information processing to investigate how users perceptually group platform and apps together through app-platform integration design and how this perception activates spillover usage between platform and apps. Particularly, the study focuses on two essential app-platform integration designs driven from spatial and temporal dimensions of entitativity perception: space embeddedness and responsiveness.We propose to conduct two studies utilizing two distinct methodologies. In Study 1, we will examine actual platform and app usage from a popular web browser platform (Firefox). In Study 2, we will extend the empirical results by conducting a field experiment in which the key constructs of interests will be manipulated.To this end, we have collected partial panel data from Firefox. Preliminary analysis provided some support for our predictions. We have also contacted a social network site in China and have gained support from the company to conduct a field experiment using their site.To our knowledge, our study will be the first to empirically test a theoretical framework and explain how a symbiotic relationship between platform and apps can be achieved. The study will also contribute to practice by providing specific guidelines on how software platforms can leverage integration designs principles to achieve a stronger spillover effect and build a more sustainable ecosystem.


Project number9042583
Grant typeGRF
Effective start/end date1/01/18 → …