Exploring Platform Ecosystems: A Comparison of Complementor Networks and their Characteristics
Angeren, J. van
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Owners of software platforms are increasingly dependent on developers of complementarities. As the proprietary platform itself exhibits elementary or generic functionality, platform owners depend on a complementor ecosystem populated by third-parties. As such, the ecosystem became a pivotal determinant for the success or failure of a software platform in platform-based competition. At present, little is known about mechanisms at play in proprietary platform ecosystems, and it remains unclear how these ecosystems differ from each other across firms and platform types. Addressing this deficiency, this thesis investigates and contrasts four proprietary platform ecosystems through statistical and network analysis. The research compares the ecosystems that exist around Google Apps, Google Chrome, Office365 and Internet Explorer, with data obtained by means of automated app store data extraction and interfirm relationships obtained from company websites and CrunchBase. Results show similarities among the four proprietary platform ecosystems. The ecosystems are sparsely connected and highly centralized, since 3.18\% to 29.82\% of complementors initiated interfirm relationships. Furthermore, the ecosystems are predominantly populated by complementors that limitedly commit to application development, the average number of applications developed per complementor ranges from 1.34 to 2.18. This is especially apparent in the Google Apps and Office365 ecosystems, that display strong characteristics of power law scaling in the distribution of the number of applications developed per complementor. Despite the apparent similarities, Google platform ecosystems harbor a greater population, Microsoft ecosystems are more densely interwoven by interfirm relationships and web browser ecosystems display sheer connectivity. The differences are attributed to the lower entry barriers to complementary markets imposed by Google, the positive relationships between the number of applications a complementor develops and the number of interfirm relationships it initiates, the active partner enablement by Microsoft and the degree of homogeneity of the species in the ecosystem. The research method and results presented in this thesis can be used by practitioners as a reference to evaluate their structural position in the ecosystem, whereas it provides researchers with a quantification of ecosystem characteristics and a step towards better understanding of forces at play in proprietary platform ecosystems.