Veni-grant NWO for Anne Helmond
App ecosystems: A critical history
The aim of this project is to write the first critical history of the app ecosystem. People spend much of their time online using apps to communicate with people and to share content. Yet, despite their popularity we know little about the development of individual apps, their emergence as a new media form, and their native environment, the app stores.
There are three important developments that require urgent attention: the progressive (i) securitization of daily life, augmented by the rise of apps, prompting surveillance and privacy risks; (ii) concentration of app markets by app stores, dominated by Facebook, Apple, and Google, causing rapid conglomeration; and (iii) platformization of the app ecosystem, further consolidating the dominant position of social media platforms. In order to analyze these three issues, we need to develop techniques to historicize and understand their developments.
Apps are ephemeral media that are continuously updated, rendering older versions unavailable. Since app stores do not archive apps this poses serious challenges for understanding past app ecosystems. However, the largest web archive, the Internet Archive, has archived sizeable parts of the app stores, enabling new and unique opportunities for app historiography.
Within media studies, apps are a new object of study, and this project provides the first contribution to the empirical analysis of app histories by developing digital methods for app historiography. I develop methods to write distinct histories of apps on three interrelated levels: examining (i) apps: individual or collections of apps; (ii) app stores: evolving app markets and ecosystems, and (iii) platforms: changing relations between apps and web platforms.
This project puts data from the Internet Archive to new uses and aims to make historical app collections available. It provides novel digital methods for writing app histories to understand the emergence of this new cultural form.