WebKit web-browsing technologies are central to most mobile-platforms.
Do firms like Apple, Google, Nokia, Samsung really collaborate all together with WebKit development?
Or otherwise, each of them works on its own niche/piece of WebKit?
Turku School of Economics
University of Turku, Turku, Finland
Turku School of Economics
University of Turku, Turku, Finland
Institute of Applied Sciences
University of Szeged, Szeged, Hungary
We combined and virtual-ethnography (VE) with a Social Network Analysis (SNA) over publicly-available and naturally-occurring open-source data that allowed us to re-construct and visualize the evolution of the WebKit collaboration in a sequence of networks.
We started by screening, by ethnographic manners, publicly available data such as company announcements, financial reports and specialized-press that allowed us to gain insights of the industrial context.
Initial research questions
How companies like Apple, Google and Nokia collaborate in the development of the WebKit project?
Do they collaborate by integrated manners? Or each of them works on its own piece?
How do for-profit companies collaborate with the open-source community?
Initially screened websites
Table 1 - Initial sample of websites
The WebKit Open Source Project
Slashdot: News for nerds, stuff that matters
ZDNet | Technology News, Analysis, Comments and Product Reviews for IT Professionals
Technology News - CNET News
Computerworld - IT news, features, blogs, tech reviews, career advice
TechCrunch - The latest technology news and information on startups
Apple - Press Info - Press Releases
News from Google – Google
Nokia Press » Nokia – Press
KDE - Experience Freedom!
British Broadcasting Corporation
The New York Times - Breaking News, World News & Multimedia
TODAYonline | Comprehensive Singapore and international news and analysis
Other screened websites
Table 2 - Key selected events within WebKit
WebKit started within Apple as a fork of KHTML and KJS open-source projects.
Apple, forced by the open-source community, published WebKit source-code in a public repository
Apple released 1st generation of iPhone
Google launched Chrome and Android
Nokia and Intel Announced Strategic Relationship
Nokia and Microsoft formed a broad strategic partnership. Intel searched for new partners for Meego.
The patent war broke out between Apple and Samsung, and their hostilities reached climax with the first trial in U.S. $1.049 billion in damages.
Google announced to fork WebKit's core components, just 1 month after Apple registered WebKit as its trademark.
Inputs for our analysis were the WebKit source-code and its version-control-system change-log. An archived version of the raw-data is here available within a single Tarball.
We covered contributions to the WebKit source-code from 1st September 2006 till 3rd April 2013. Data-cleansing efforts were minimal thanks to WebKit strict code-commit policies.
Python scripts scrapping the WebKit change-log are available here within a single Tarball
The first visualisation were performed ad-hoc "in-code" using the networkx and matplot libraries.
Both our community visualisation and sub-community detection approaches (network clustering) relied on 6 networks, each capturing different phases of the WebKit development.
For understanding the evolution of the code-based collaboration, we connect developers who work on the same file,
constructing a network of collaboration activities among developers. With the visualization of the network over time, we gain insights on collaboration and rivalry within the software project.
The collaborative network during a certain time slice can be formally defined as:
Gt = (V,Av,E)
V = A set of nodes representing the developers contributing to the WebKit open-source software project
E = A set of edges, identifying the connections between two developers if they have worked on the same software source-code file.
Av = A set of nodes-attributes, capturing each developer’s company affiliation. This information is extracted from the email address of each developer.
Table 3 - Essential collaborative-networks driving the Social Network Analysis
From Apple release of WebKit until the launch of Iphone
In 2011, Apple lost its unique central-role, and started to share network-centrality with Google, Samsung and Igalia.
RIM and Nokia, that adoped WebKit within their
mobile platforms strategy, always remained in periphery with observable separation from the most central players.
Nokia contributed with a lot of code, but mostly Nokians working with Nokians (WebKit sub-community).
Igalia remained central within WebKit collaboration network. But Igalia often represented the interests of Nokia and Intel on
the Maemo and Meego platforms. A non informed study would lead to wrong interpretations. Importance of the prior ethnographic work and industrial-domain knowledge.
Nokia and Intel breakage of cooperation easily visualised over time. Nokia marriage with Microsoft caused immediate damage.
Less collaboration with Intel in the Webkit project in particular, and less collaboration within WebKit in general.
In a marriage with Microsoft Nokia become even more peripheral in WebKit community. RIM remained committed to the WebKit project besides company-crisis.
The distance between Samsung and Apple indeed increased as the rivalry has upgraded since the patent wars in 2012.
Non-affiliated developers, who are often volunteers without firm-sponsorship, together with developers
affiliated with smaller firms, were more central within the WebKit collaboration network than developers
affiliate with the 10 organizations we highlighted according to the previous Bitergia study.
Back to initial research question: Rival companies collaborate together across all the WebKit source-tree.
Company affiliation did not seam to matter for a long time. But things changed, Blink is already here.
WebKit have its sub-communities, groups of developers that tend to collaborate more closely with each other. WebKit sub-communities are extremely dynamic as their structures strongly vary over time.
Sub-community detection methods reveal how developers social-structure is shaped by key events in the WebKit history.
Contrary to initially expected, sub-community detection methods reveal that WebKit developers social-structure do not reflect any particular
architecture, device, platform or ecosystem. WebKit sub-communities do not map vendors (e.g. Apple, Google, Nokia) or ecosystem (iOS, Android, Symbian) over time.
In our view, this study made some methodological contributions:
Non sequential combination of Virtual-Netnography (aka Netnography) and Social Network Analysis.
Dangers of simply relying on network properties to measure the importance of actors and groups without ethnographic triangulation: e.g. the central Igalia firm (Spanish contractor) contributed representing the interests of Nokia and Intel.
We believe to confirm/reinforce the current body of theoretical knowledge:
Coopetition <-- technological complexity + turbulence in the competitive scenario.
Coopetition <-- need for external resources + need to secure access to unique resources.
Coopetition <-- sharing the cost of developing.
Coopetition <-- pressure to develop within new areas provided by competition + access to resources provided by cooperation
When a focal firm is embedded in a business network, a change in one relationship will cause changes in other relationship.
Nokia abrupt strategy changes are easily visualised.
But we would like to add that:
Within an open-source scenario, it is a networked community integrating firms and independent developers, open to contributions from everyone, that fulfils the need for external resources.
According to (Bengtsson and Kock, 2000), individuals within a firm can only act in accordance with one of the two logics of interaction at a time, either compete or collaborate. Hence that, either the two parts have to be divided between individuals within the company, or that one part needs to be controlled and regulated by an intermediate organization such as a collective association. Within an open-source scenario, it is the project community that plays the role of such intermediate organization. Developers must identify themselves with the project community for being able to collaborate with company-rivals in the same community.
Coopetition theories mostly address alliances that take the form of either joint-ventures or consortia, where access is
only granted to a few selected partners; this contrasts with the open-source community where everyone is allowed to copy, sell and distribute outcomes from the project
Coopetition theories lack explanation power for the competitive and collaborative issues that are simultaneously present and interconnected in our WebKit case in particular, and the open-source community in general.
Moreover, our research highlights the power of the open-source fork concept as a nexus enabling both features of competition and collaboration).
SNA visualizations can help, different stakeholders, in assessing their inter-firm network positions for better decision making regarding inter-networked strategic alliances.
User, adopters and integrators, we can depict the project evolution for thorough assessments of its sustainability and dynamics when reacting to exogenous events.
Investors, clarifying the network dynamics can improve the forecast of product attractiveness and future growth.
Software engineering practice
By understanding better how rival firms collaborate by open-source manners, we are better prepared for:
Fomenting a environment with lower entrance-costs in the high-tech industry.
Enhance industrial competition and industrial sharing of development costs.
Minimize problems with current intellectual property regime mining fair-market competition in high-tech industry.
Foment open-source and consequentially digital-privacy friendly ICT infrastructures.
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Seminars and guest-talks where this research was presented
KISS'28 Kilpisjärvi Information Systems Seminar, Kilpisjärvi, Finland - 21.-27.4.2013.
Lero Invited Speaker, Lero, University of Limerick, Ireland - 3.10.2013.
Inforte seminar on Practice Research, Aalto Universiry, Helsinki, Finland - 20-21.1.2014.
INSNA Sunbelt XXXIV, St. Pete, USA - 18-23.2.2014
The idea of this research project surged by pure serendipity at the Inforte seminar on Big Data and Social Media Analytics
by Sudha Ram and Matti Rossi. The researchers thank the financial support from the Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia (grant SFRHBD615612009) and Liikesivistysrahasto
(grant 3-1815). Acknowledgements also for Lero - the Irish software engineering research centre were part of this research was conducted. Special thanks to Jari Salo, Reima Suomi, Sarah Beecham and Gregorio Robles for
early comments on manuscripts. A last word to the WebKit developers for developing cool, open and research-friendly technologies.