The Journal of Peer Production - New perspectives on the implications of peer production for social change New perspectives on the implications of peer production for social change
Reviews (Configuring the independent developer) image

Review A

Reviewer: Anonymous

1. Is the subject matter relevant?

Yes, the subject is relevant to this issue of JoPP. Through the analysis of project ARA, the article proposes a critique of a practice, the involvement of voluntary contributors in open innovation by a firm, Google. The authors state that the promise of democratizing innovation is contradictory with the ways firms control the labor and appropriate the results of the ones who creatively participate in the development and production of goods. They mobilize the concepts of ANT and feminist STS.

More precisely, they view the Independent Developer as a figure (a configuration of the User of developing tools prescribed by Google). By unpacking the figure’s constitutive elements, they wish to understand how Google prescribes practices through socio-technological devices. As they describe how this partnership did not work out, the case may also suggest that following (at least some of) the rules of co-construction of the sociotechnical devices may be a condition of success for the firms.

2. Is the treatment of the subject matter intellectually interesting? Are there citations or bodies of literature you think are essential to which the author has not referred?

Yes. The subject of the collaborating process between voluntary contributors, communities and firms during innovation represents an original contribution to the debate around the emancipatory potential of digital fabrication/makerspaces.

The authors might specifically draw on recent knowledge on innovation by users are ICT-based innovation in the open source programming and computer game industry to analyze the process of innovation at the individual and peer community levels (see for instance, Hienerth et al, on the LEGO produced-user ecosystem).

The discussion over the different figures of the “user” is interesting. However, the authors should point to the differences between each of these figures in order to better characterize the one that Google configured (named Independent Developer, ID). For example, since they state that Google tried to transfer the figure of the ID of Android apps to that of ARA, they should address the paradox of designing tools to enable users to customize a product while enrolling different categories of users (including software experts from the Phoneblok community) to develop new ideas.

3. Are there any noticeable problems with the author’s means of validating assumptions or making judgments?

I am not convinced by the mobilization of the feminist theory in addition to ANT:

1. The authors do not legitimize the asymmetry of (economic) power in a situation where the volunteers possess valuable resources such as knowledge and autonomy. Their statement on the “tools of control” being the proof of “division of labor” configured by Google to benefit “unpaid, creative labor” is not validated by their observations on the practitioners activities and exchanges.

2. Although they argue that ANT and feminist STS are best taken together, it is not clear why “figure” framework is more appropriate than the “script” of the ANT which also combines materialities and discourses. In addition, the ANT literature provides keys to understand innovation as a process (see below). Considering the relationship between developers, communities and Google as a dynamics, the authors may analyze the configuration/re- figuration process in a less subjective approach. Who are the external developers? Where do they come from? Why and when did they ceased trying to become the ID? Explicitly answering these questions may help understand the differences with other figures discussed pages 17-19.

3. They do not take full advantage of the concepts of de-, re-, con-, and co figuration to understand the thickness of the interactions between users, the firm, the tools and the community. For example, what did the Phoneblok User look like? How and by whom were the designing tools configured ? How could the concept of figuration help enlighten the failure of the ARA Project ?

4. It might also be worthwhile questioning the consequences of the incursion of the community of Phoneblok in the early stages of the project ARA and the follow-up of interactions of Google with communities.

5. Stressing the abnormalities/ambiguities (See Susan Leigh Star) may help the authors leverage their critical observations on organizational issues in the co-construction process. For example, they observed that the developers used Metamorph to build a community instead of creating apps. They also signal that some events were cancelled by Google. Why ? What happened then ?

Minor point: the cultural repertoire of open innovation (Page 8) is different in modern technoscience (nanotechnologies, biotech and so on) than in peer production communities.

Akrich, Callon and Latour : The key to success in innovation. PART I: THE ART OF INTERESSEMENT. MADELEINE AKRICH, MICHEL CALLON and BRUNO LATOUR 2002.

4. Are there portions of the article that you recommend be shortened, excised or expanded?

The presentation of the conceptual framework maybe revised in a more dynamic approach of innovation. The complementarity of the feminist framework should be justified more strongly (or abandoned).
With regards to the last part of the discussion, the so-called “as if” (page 19), I do not think this concept is useful. The story of Phoneblok constitutes a phase in the genealogy of project ARA. Therefore this portion of the article should be removed.

5. How adequately does the paper address the special issue topic of ‘institutions and the institutionalization’ of makerspaces, and how could the connection be improved (particularly within the three themes in the CfP)?

The paper addresses the special issue topic of ‘institutions and the institutionalization of makerspaces’ through the transformation of practices and experiences in open innovation. The authors explore whether ICT tools frame a figure of an ideal user by a firm and how real developers contribute to the (re- de- and con-)figuration of this tool through their participation to a project.
By opposing bottom up (individual users) and top down (firms) initiatives, the authors blur the institutionalization process and fail to describe the series of negotiations and adjustments between the Google firm, the individuals and the “grassroot production communities” materialized in the tools provided by the firm to the users (whether platform or events). A more dynamic approach would allow them to analyze the construction of the ID figure through the succession of tools and events.

6. Where is there room for improvement in the presentation/use of empirical material?

I recommend the paper to be published after improvement in the presentation. First, the conceptual framework should be justified and some literature on innovation by users added.
Second, the paper should present a complete genealogy of project ARA (including Phonebloks whose community participated to ARA). This will help the novice to understand the case and provide insight in the universe of practice from which the ID (and project Ara) emerged. It will clarify the role of Phoneblok and eventually other communities, as well as individuals (developers, users and betatesters…) involved along the process.

An analysis of this dynamic configuration/deconfiguration process will point out each important step of the project such as MakeMoto, Developers conferences, and MDK versions… and help understand the relationship of Google with the communities of developers, the way the tools are “updated” by the firm, enacted by the users and whether the interactions between them changed over time. It would also help understand who the developers are and what do they actually do with the tools.

Third, the discussion should be rearticulated to provide a more equilibrated view of the configuration role of Google, but also to diagnose the ambivalences in term of re, de and co figuration over the process and their potential negative effects on the project: the unsuccessful configuration of an ID, the lack of attention to peer communities, the ambivalences and ambiguities inscribed in tools. This should provide arguments for a more comprehensive critique of the project ARA in terms of co-construction.

Review B

Reviewer: Anonymous

Is the subject matter relevant?

This is a very thoughtful paper that usefully examines a current management practice and develops our theoretical understanding in this area. The author(s) clearly have the potential to make a valuable contribution although the draft requires further refinement.

Is the treatment of the subject matter intellectually interesting? Are there citations or bodies of literature you think are essential to which the author has not referred?

The treatment of the subject matter under discussion in the paper is indeed intellectually interesting and offers the opportunity to make a worthwhile contribution to the discussion in this area. The theoretical framing of the discussion is appropriate and the author(s) make good use of relevant literature and theory to explore conceptual issues. However, it would make the contribution far stronger if the author(s) could more clearly map out the theoretical differences between the different forms of use and user that they explore, as it would better situate the contribution.

The methodological aspect of the paper is also very weak and it would strengthen the argument if this aspect of the paper was made much stronger. For example, greater precision concerning what data was collected (and by what means), and how it analyzed would make it a far more useful contribution.

Are there any noticeable problems with the author’s means of validating assumptions or making judgments?

The line of argument is appropriate and generally handled well. However, it seems that the author(s) have overlooked (or failed to explore) a key aspect of the proposed contribution in relation to other conceptual understandings on this area – the interactive nature of the Independent Developer (ID). In other words, and unlike a typical user, an ID feeds on (and requires) a level of interactivity with its sponsoring firm – it may be provided with the software and other tools but may also require support and other feedback for continued existence. This is fundamental and the author(s) need to explore this is much greater depth, both empirically and theoretically.

Is the article well written?

Generally yes. However, the author(s) would do well to carefully proof and further submission and pay closer attention to possessive and omissive apostrophes.

Are there portions of the article that you recommend be shortened, excised or expanded?

The article is generally well-structured, although the material on Phonebloks reads as though it was simply tacked on to the earlier material. Given its importance to the discussion, it is recommended that the author(s) integrate it more fully into the paper as a whole.

How adequately does the paper address the special issue topic of ‘institutions and the institutionalisation’ of makerspaces, and how could the connection be improved (particularly within the three themes in the CfP)?

This is a potentially important contribution as it explores how the notion of configuration can be applied to a wider range of actors than simply users. As such, the article has strong potential and should be considered for the SI.

Where is there room for improvement in the presentation/use of empirical material?

The conceptual and theoretical material is generally handled pretty well. In contrast, the empirical and methodological material is relatively poorly handled and would benefit from further work. One simple approach that would benefit both conceptual and empirical clarity would be to tabulate and summarize the complex ideas and approaches employed.

a) recommend the paper is published, or b) recommend it is not?

Recommendation: Will require major revisions prior to publication. However, would urge author(s) to take this opportunity to undertake further work as the paper shows great promise.

Editors’ review

Thanks again for your paper (and commitment!) to the Institutions special issue of the Journal of Peer Production. We have now received the reviews, both of which recommend ‘major edits’.

We agree with the reviewers that your paper features a thoughtful, well-written and fascinating case study which is highly relevant to the special issue’s theme while weaving together useful STS theories. However, we also agree that there is still some work to be done. So, here we set out our editorial position in relation to the recommendations.

In summary, the main requests include:

  • Both reviewers agree that while the conceptual and theoretical material is strong (Reviewer 1 – and ourselves – are especially pleased with how your treatment of the theoretical issues relates to the special issue theme, something we’d love to see more of in the introduction and conclusion), the reviewers both do feel that the methodological and empirical aspects of your paper need work. They ask for an overall deepening of your approaches in this regard – how many interviews you did, what kind of participant observation you engaged in during the ethnography, how you worked through and analysed your results, more precision in how data was collected, etc. We agree with them that the significant amount of empirical work done in addition to your dense theoretical work is a great aspect of this paper, but it is not really mentioned at all until several pages into the paper itself. Marking these elements much more clearly in the abstract and/or intro (other options include adding a new section that more clearly outlines the paper’s contents and where it will be going, or creating a table or summary of the ideas and approaches used, as Reviewer 2 recommends) will help with this.
  • Regarding your conceptual framework, more clarity is also needed in your mobilization of feminist theory in addition to ANT – Reviewer 1 in particular finds issue in your justification of this, and also in your descriptions of the asymmetries of economic power due to the autonomy the volunteers may possess in this case; s/he also is not convinced on your use of figuration rather than ANT’s scripting models and would like to see more usage of user innovation literatures (several are suggested) as well as more in-depth treatment of de-, re- etc concepts from con-figuration in your depictions of interactions, for example in the case of a typical Phoneblok user to back up claims. Reviewer 2 feels some of this work could be done by more clearly mapping out the theoretical differences in the theories (maybe even a diagram or two outlining these), for example differences between concepts you explore regarding use and user.
  • There is also a lack of reviewer clarity regarding the various influences in Project Ara’s genealogy, in particular its relationship with Phoneblok. Both reviewers feel the Phoneblok addition feels “tacked on” or arbitrary; Reviewer 1 in particular suggests the Phoneblok case study is removed entirely as s/he notes it has been a part of the lineage of project Ara from the beginning. We think you could argue for it to remain, but you would need to better clarify why it is a useful alternative “as if” and not just an idea that was weaved into Project Ara from its onset, and therefore not in itself significant.
  • While both reviewers agree the paper adequately addresses the special issue topics around institutionalization, they feel you could take a more dynamic approach to the binary that you have set up between top-down and bottom-up initiatives, noting instead the complexities of assemblages between negotiations, firms, individuals and communities (Reviewer 1) that takes into account the grey areas between these interactions and allows you to construct a more complicated Independent Developer figure that is not merely one nor the other and instead rooted in ambiguities. Reviewer 2 suggests focusing in better on the interactivity of the Independent Developer as a figure, noting its relationships with sponsoring firms etc in order to continue existing.

Lastly, as the journal does not have funds for professional copy-editing, we ask that you do a last serious round of proofreading before resubmitting, as several small issues were noticed regarding words being pluralised (or not) incorrectly, and also issues with punctuation like possessive/omissive apostrophes. The JoPP also requests a standardised citation format in Harvard style so please modify this also.

We hope this feedback is useful and constructive; despite the edits necessary, we do all agree that the paper has great potential. Many thanks, again, for being involved in the process!