How Proprietary Software Platforms Leverage Online Communities to Foster Knowledge Exchange among External Developers – A Big Data Analysis

Thesis (MA/DA)

Advisor(s): Martin Kauschinger (


Digital platforms change how we consume and deliver software services (Song et al. 2018). Compared to traditional, product-based business models, platforms offer huge scaling potentials (Parker et al. 2016). It is for this very reason that many software vendors started to pursue platform strategies. However, digital platforms are very dependent on third-party contributions (Ghazawneh/Henfridsson 2013). For example, a big portion of Amazon’s retailing success stems from to the sheer amount of user-generated product reviews. Another example is Apple, who profits significantly from selling third-party applications on their Appstore. Consequently, researchers started to investigate how companies can stimulate third-party contributions (de Reuver et al. 2017). Contrary to online reviews which can be written by anybody having purchased the product, third-party software application development is a far more complex issue. This is due to software development being a knowledge intensive task that requires requires external developers to understand the platform core (Tiwana 2014). During the development process, they use this knowledge to access the platform’s functionalities through API calls. However, a significant amount of effort is necessary to acquire the knowledge required for developing third-party applications. Platform owners address this issue by relying on several tools to coordinate knowledge sharing across their platform ecosystem (Schreieck et al. 2016; Ghazawneh/Henfridsson 2013).

A common tool that facilitates knowledge sharing with external developers are online communities (Jeppesen/Frederiksen 2006). However, in the information systems field, the role of online communities has largely been discussed with respect to open source communities being a functional form of organization (Lindberg et al. 2016). With the uptake of platform strategies, more and more companies try to nurture their own, firm-hosted communities like SAP’s Developer Community (SAP 2020), Salesforce’s Trailblazer Community (Salesforce 2020) or the Now Community from ServiceNow (ServiceNow 2020). Instead of sponsoring own communities, some companies decided to leverage existing developer communities like StackOverflow to share problems and solutions associated with their technology. For instance, approximately 1.3 million question on StackOverflow are tagged with “Android” (StackOverflow 2020). The relevance of online communities can barely be neglected since developers are getting as much as 50% of their code from online communities. Furthermore, they visit online communities up to ten times more often than the official documentation (Parnin 2013; Parnin/Treude 2011).

Until now, we have only little knowledge about how proprietary software platforms engage in sponsored online communities with their developers. Furthermore, we do not comprehend how community governance changes when platform owners appear as a new stakeholder in the community. We assume that this causes significant changes because platform owners’ main interest is in promoting its own technology. Preliminary evidence suggests that platform owner’s knowledge seeding behavior has a significant, positive effect on the knowledge contributions of others (Huang et al. 2018). Finally, we do not know whether external developer’s knowledge absorption differs when knowledge is shared by members of the focal firm.

To conduct the analysis, we will provide you with access to a large data set. The data set consists of approx. 2.5 million threads of an online community hosted by a major technology company. The data comprises the whole lifespan of the community and consists of questions, answers and comments. All contributions have timestamps. The data allows to differentiate between external developers and internal employees. The aim of the thesis is to identify interaction patterns and cluster activities in the community. Based on the findings, you will deduce factors that drive problem solving. We recommend a mixture of qualitative and computational research methods (e.g. natural language processing or topic modeling) to analyze the data. Experience in this field is helpful but not required.


  • Review the literature in the respective field
  • Review existing research methods in the respective field
  • Cluster activities within the data
  • Identify interaction patterns in the data
  • Identify which factors contribute to solving problems
  • Based on your findings: Deduce recommendations for platform owners and external developers
  • Discuss implications for the management of digital platforms


  • High degree of autonomy and responsibility
  • Interest in research on platform ecosystems
  • Interest in data analytics and textual analysis
  • Experience in data analytics can be beneficial
  • Experience in webscraping can be beneficial

Further Information

The thesis can be written in English or German. The topic can also be adapted to your interests. If you have further questions, please do not hesitate to contact me directly ( Please send your application including our application form, a current transcript of records, and your CV to Please note that we can only consider applications with complete documents.


de Reuver, M.; Sorensen, C.; Basole, R.C. (2017): The Digital Platform: A Research Agenda. In: Journal of Information Technology, Vol. 33 (2017) No. 2, pp. 124-135.

Ghazawneh, A.; Henfridsson, O. (2013): Balancing Platform Control and External Contribution in Third-Party Development: The Boundary Resources Model. In: Information Systems Journal, Vol. 23 (2013) No. 2, pp. 173-192.

Huang, P.; Tafti, A.; Mithas, S. (2018): Platform Sponsor Investments and User Contributions in Knowledge Communities: The Role of Knowledge Seeding. In: MIS Quarterly, Vol. 42 (2018) No. 1, pp. 213-240.

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Song, P.; Xue, L.; Rai, A.; Zhang, C. (2018): The Ecosystem of Software Platform: A Study of Asymmetric Cross-Side Network Effects and Platform Governance. In: MIS Quarterly, Vol. 42 (2018) No. 1, pp. 121-142.

StackOverflow (2020): Questions tagged [android]., accessed at 30.06.2020.

Tiwana, A. (2014): Platform Ecosystems - Aligning Architecture, Governance, and Strategy, Morgan Kaufmann, Walham 2014.