SIGCIS 2010 Workshop Dissertations in Progress

Name:Hansen Hsu

Institutional Affiliation:Cornell University


Paper Type:Dissertation Proposal

Paper Title:A History and Ethnography of the Cocoa Software Community

Paper Abstract:This project proposes two things. The first piece of the project will be a historical look at the emergence of the NeXT developer community in the 1990s and its transformations after the release of Mac OS X and the iPhone, from primarily a contracting business to being an independent consumer software producer for a mainstream device. This research will be based on oral history interviews with veteran Cocoa developers in Seattle, Silicon Valley, and elsewhere. Existing interviews with iPhone developers from my previous studies will also be incorporated. Part of the purpose of this portion of the study is to explore the historical connection between the NeXT/Cocoa community and larger debates about the merits of dynamic object-oriented programming technology within the business and academic software community more widely, how these debates helped to structure the subject position of being a NeXT programmer, and the formation of the Cocoa community itself.

The second piece of the project is an extended multi-sited ethnographic study of the Cocoa developer community, focusing on the core set surrounding the Seattle Xcoders developer club. This may involve doing ethnographic study within some of the companies located here, in addition to the study of the Xcoders group itself. The purpose of this study is to explore the culture, values, and ideological commitments of Cocoa developers, to explain their drives and motivations in supporting and programming for Apple’s technology, and to understand what being a Cocoa programmer means to their lives. What drives their passionate commitment to what they consider to be a superior technology? What sorts of political tensions do they navigate between being ardent supporters of Apple’s technology but also small developers at the mercy of Apple’s corporate whims? How do their commitments and values affect design decisions that go into the construction of their products? How do they seek to enroll new developers, especially those iPhone developers new to the platform, in a set of shared values centered around the notion of “quality”? What measures of “quality” are defined by the community, how are they constituted, and what moral role do they play in programmers’ practices?

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