Category Archives: Research

Can Open Source Hardware Disrupt Manufacturing Industries?

It is with great pleasure to announce that the book is out in which Piet and I have a chapter:

Spaeth, Sebastian, and Piet Hausberg. “Can Open-Source Hardware Disrupt Manufacturing Industries? The Role of Platforms and Trust in the Rise of 3D Printing.” In The Decentralized and Networked Future of Value Creation: 3D Printing and Its Implications for Society, Industry, and Sustainable Development, edited by Jan Peter Ferdinand and Ulrich Petschow. Progress in IS. Berlin: Springer, 2016.
The preproof is on SSRN and you can get the PDF from there too. What is weird is that some freelance journalist seems to have discovered it and loosely retold it (without giving any credit). If he had at least changed the title and not copied it verbatim, I might not even have discovered his plagiarism.

When one door closes, another opens

I should have written about this quite some time ago, but never got around to actually do it. The last months have been exciting. I handed in my habilitation at ETH Zurich and it passed end December. Starting February 1st, I can now call myself a “Privatdozent ETH“, having been awarded the Venia Legendi (Teaching credentials) in Management Sciences.

Joel West, Joachim Henkel, Juliana Sutanto, and of course Georg von Krogh have steered me through the habilitation process, and I will always be grateful for the volunteer effort that they’ve put into this.

So far so good. But this also implies that my time at the ETH is coming to an end. I actually attempted to remain in Zurich and applied at both ETH and University of Zurich — to no avail.

I have been applying at a few Universities in Germany during 2012, and out of 5 applications was invited to present at four Universities (no, I will not publicly shame the one University that did not respond for seven months at all, rejecting me with a 2-liner).


©Forschung und Lehre 2013

Prompted by this announcement in Forschung und Lehre in February 2013, I am very, very happy to announce that I successfully negotiated with the University of Hamburg in December 2012, and that I am in the process of getting my chair at the University starting in July 2013. In Hamburg, a city of media publishers and technology startups, I will be the heading the Chair of Management, specifically Digital Markets, at the School of Business, Economics and Social Sciences. More specifically, I will be located in the Department of Socioeconomics, the Fachbereich Sozialökonomie.

This implies a lot of changes, all of them exciting, and most of it to the positive:

For the first time in my life I will have a working contract that is not time-limited at the outset. This means a lot to a man whose hair is getting gray and whose kids are growing up. It also means being my own boss for the first time in my life and being the boss of a few others depending on me. This is going to be a tremendous challenge and one that I look forward to.

Research-wise, I will be even freer to pursue the topics that I am curious about. While my current chair of strategic management and innovation is broad enough to let me follow my research interests, digital markets and digital technologies have always been the core of my curiosity. Georg von Krogh has always given me all the academic freedom that I need. Let us not talk about resource endowment at this point though…

Teaching-wise, this will be quite a change. I will have to do more teaching that I ever had done, and I will have to do it in a system that I have not been part of for 13 years. I have already been struggling with lecture directories that require abstracts to be in (exclusively) German for courses that are going to be taught in English as part of an International Master’s programme. Oh well, may you live in interesting times…

Family-wise, it is a relief to be living closer to our families, and to actually have family members living in the same city.

I look forward to collaborate with new colleagues, such as Jetta Frost, Mark Heitmann or Dirk Gilbert, and also to be able to renew collaborations with other colleagues such as Jan Lungberg, Bertil Rolandsson, Linus Dahlander, Christina Raasch, or Oliver Alexy.

Economist seminars on public goods and generosity

Today, I went to a seminar by, from, and for Economists!

Karin Nyborg (University of Oslo) talked about “Cooperation is Relative: Framing and Income Effects with Public Goods”, finding that “rich people” contribute to public goods independent of reward, while poor were self-interest driven. Interesting stuff.

This is relevant as we are also looking at contributions to a public good in Collaborative Open Innovation.

Describing standard Linear Public Good game. Decide how much to keep for you, how much to give to the group. The group income is then multiplied by some factor and split between the group.
.. Payoff x_i = e_i – c_i + m(Sum(c_k)1/N
Double blind, no one will know who has decided how. (not even lab personnel)

Highly endowed (rich) students get 10€, the poor one 5€. Project suceeds only if contributions reach 120NOK (half of all endowments).

The decision variable of how much to contribute is changed in three treatment groups. It is 1) Absolute, that is, “I decide to give 10NOK to the group”, it is 2) Relative, “I give 30% of my endowment to the group”, or 3) Payoff (“I keep 70 NOK for myself”).

As a result 1) and 2) are basically the same. 84%, or 80% “succeeeded”, ie reached the treshold, the payoff group was only 67%. Wow, it matters how you formulate your question.

Rich people gave the same in all cases (1,2,3). Poor people contributed most in the “Absolute” case (40NOK), less “Relative” (30NOK) and least in the payoff case (10NOK or so). Overall, it was a nicely and well done experiment and quite cool, overall. I could well imagine doing something similar.

Externe Ideen flexibel sammeln und nutzen


(c)io management 2012

Die aktuelle Ausgabe von io management ist dem Thema “Open Innovation” gewidment. Es enthält einen kurzen Artikel auf deutsch von mir und Georg von Krogh als Einstieg ins Thema Open Innovation. Er ist für Manager geschrieben und stellt open innovation vor und gibt eine kurze Übersicht. Es hat Spass gemacht zur Abwechslung mal einen kurzen Artikel zu schreiben.

Gambardella and Hall, 2006, Research Policy

For a number of reasons I had to reread this Gambardella & Hall, 2006 article [1] today. It is about researchers (in which open source software developers are included) having to chose between operating in a “Public Domain” (PD) manner, in which knowledge is disclosed according to “The republic of Science” and a “Proprietary Research” (PR) mode in which researchers attempt to monetize their work and keep the created “intellectual property” proprietary.

Overall, I have to say I found the paper to be somewhat sloppily researched and written. It refers to “forking” as selling a commercial program while an open source version of the same program co-exists, a definition which most of my acquintances would not approve of. Also, I am not at all sure that one can subsume all “scientists, open source contributors, user inventors and communities of technologists” into one category, as there are major differences in terms of incentives, governance structures and legal frameworks between those.

I do not think the GPL license is presented in a correct manner either (which I find disappointing for a paper that is mostly about the GPL license). It is not intended to restrict freedoms from a Public Domain point of view (the GPL is far from a Public Domain approach), it grants additional rights over the conventional copyright-based protection mechanisms (PR). While the end result might be similar, the emphasis is different, the GPL does not limit freedoms, it grants additional ones. This becomes important in cases when the GPL would be deemed illegal or invalid: The assets in question would not fall into the PD area, but squarely back into old-style copyright law, and its use by others would become automatically illegal too. Gambardella & Hall make a point on the enforcability of the GPL, and they seem to posit that there is “a lack of legal enforcement” and that the GPL mostly “acts as a signal” clearing potential ambiguities. I think, the companies that have been subject to a GPL violation law suit or informal settlement would disagree on the lack of legal enforcement. I that I think a thorough paper on the GPL as a legal coordination tool would be good to point out these issues in more detail. There are more things like that, but that is not the point.

The paper attempts to bring home 3 main points, 2 of them I can whole heartily agree with:

“Our contribution is simply to highlight that Olsons’s insight [that collective action needs coordination in order to be sustained] can be applied to the analysis of the instability of open systems.”

That is a valid and well observed point. I think that there is still too little research on Open Source from a collective action perspective. Our study [2] attempts to go there, but more on that would be welcome.

The second point is a policy implication:

The implication is that there is little need for policy if more proprietary research is desirable, as the latter is likely to arise naturally from the individual actions. By contrast, policy or institutional devieces that could sustain the right amount of corrdination is crucial if the system under-invests in knowledge that is placed in the public domain.” p.880

Research on the fragility of knowledge sharing ([3] forthcoming in Research Policy, online available if you have a subscription) is certainly needed and its policy implications discussed. I do not think that the above statement will be valid under all circumstances (Open Source contributions seem to be coming without policies in place), but I am sure they are needed in other circumstances.

And third, their main point is to create a framework which rests under the assumption that (in my own phrasing):

“The number of contributors to GPL projects will increase. As 1) those who would have operated under the Public domain (PD) scheme anyway stick to it and 2) some of those would would have done Proprietary Research (PR) join the PD scheme, increasing the number of overall contributors to the PD-GPL scheme. Those who would have done PR at any price will stick to their way.”

It is interesting and intuitive assumption, but I am not convinced that it will universally hold true. I have previously written a piece about What constitutes free that asserts that there are 2 camps of “free” definers. One sees the GPL-free as they only free (as GPL’d assets are guaranteed to remain free), the other camp (BSD-free) sees the GPL as unfree as it limits what can be done with the code (eg it can not appropriated). Gambardella and Hall cater to the first group but silently ignore the second one. They are even closer to any “PD” scheme, but would never contribute to a PD-cum-GPL scheme which is not free enough. (If you don’t believe that read any BSD vs GPL flamewar in a mailing list). As such, attaching a GPL license to assets, could very well deter
PD-proponents from joining the GPL’d project. Which renders the paper’s underlying model moot.

[1]Gambardella, A. & Hall, B. Proprietary versus public domain licensing of software and research products Research Policy, 2006, 35(6), 875-892
[2]Spaeth, S.; Haefliger, S.; von Krogh, G. & Birgit, R. Communal Resources in Open Source Software Development Information Research, 2008, 13(1))
[3]Simon Gaechter & Georg von Krogh & Stefan Haefliger, 2006. “Private-Collective Innovation and the Fragility of Knowledge Sharing,” Discussion Papers 2006-21, The Centre for Decision Research and Experimental Economics, School of Economics, University of Nottingham.

Seminar on user innovation

I am currently attending the seminar on user innovation at the Technical University Munich. The atmosphere is very much informal and relaxed, I enjoy that. Eric von Hippel is undoubtably the star of this community: having pursued the topic since the mid 70s (as far as I know), he also deserves this. Looking forward to the rest of the seminar… (now back to listening to the presentations :-))

By the way, Stefan Haefligers presentation was gradually moved forward, so that he is now second after the opening speech (and Karim Lakhanis presentation).

Knowledge Reuse

Now that we started to research on Knowledge Reuse in Open Source Software Development, things are progressing faster again. Today we discussed whether the term reuse limits our focus too much. We played with a thesaurus and tried to come up with alternatives and discussed if they would be appropriate, what the [dis]advantages were, etc. We’ve come up so far with Knowledge…
… Reuse, … Diffusion, … Disemination, … Replication, … Recycling, … Recovery, … Adaption.
So far we are staying with Reuse but this brainstorming session has indeed helped us to identify fine grained differences about how knowledge can be reused.