App Support Ecologies:
An Empirical Investigation of App-Platform Relations

by Carolin Gerlitz, Fernando N. van der Vlist, Anne Helmond, and Esther Weltevrede

In: Infrastructures of Publics – Publics of Infrastructures, 1st 2016 Annual Conference of the Collaborative Research Center ‘Media of Cooperation’, Artur-Woll-Haus, University of Siegen, Germany, December 8–10. Available from:

This scientific poster is designed to summarise and present current research on the relations between mobile apps and social media platforms, and the wider ecologies of which they are part. Several graphical strategies are employed so that this poster could simultaneously be read and distributed as a short article and also be presented graphically as a scientific poster. It deploys multiple typographic styles for characters and paragraphs in order to facilitate different modes of reading. It provides anchors and handles for skim reading (e.g., yellow-marked text) and summary reading paths (e.g., block paragraphs). The poster is designed to present the most significant results and findings in an efficient manner. The most relevant findings are therefore visualised and positioned in the centre, which is also visually separated from the text field areas on the poster. Two distinct types of visualisation are utilised, both of which make use of familiar colour-coding schemas that represent (and resemble) the relevant social media platforms and apps included in this research.

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This project sets out to advance the study of mobile apps at the intersection with platform studies and explores what both fields of study may learn from each other. A novel empirical methodology is developed to explore the intricate relations between mobile apps and social media platforms. Our findings suggest to think of apps as relational software entities, simultaneously situated and distributed. Apps exist as part of wider ecologies made up of programmable infrastructures and controlled data flows.

Furthermore, this empirical investigation interfaces apps with platform studies. First, it contributes to the study of mobile apps by providing a novel empirical methodology for mapping app–platform relations and thereby providing an account of apps as software entities that are both situated (existing “in context”) and distributed (both shaped by and shaping relations to platforms and diverse stakeholders). Second, it also contributes to the study of platforms by offering insights into stakeholder politics and practices, which we argue are crucial to understanding the defining features of platforms: their programmability, distinct affordances, multiplicitous stakeholders, and strategies for negotiating openness / closure.

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