A Sofa Publication

Monday the 14th of July, 2008

Indie Fever 

by Michiel van Meeteren

The genesis, culture and economy of a community of independent software developers on the Macintosh OS X platform.

'Indie Fever' is the first result of a multi-year human geography research program to investigate the social and economical world of so-called 'Indie' developers on the Macintosh platform. 'Indie' is the self-chosen nickname of software developers that serve worldwide markets from the Internet, hold their artistic values in high esteem and celebrate their ability to make high quality software as small companies. Indies form a major part of the pool of developers of third party software for the iPhone that is currently available in Apple's App Store.

Indies have organized themselves informally but strongly in a virtual community. Although they are scattered over several continents, they continuously interact over the Internet, share rumors and code, and discuss business and private interests as if they were coworkers while –technically– they are competitors. They share a common culture which is intertwined with the history of the platform they develop for and the Cocoa programming environment in particular. The thesis describes the turbulent social history of Cocoa and its early protagonists who became the role models of the Indie community. Furthermore, it analyses how Indies sustain and reproduce their particular culture primarily through online means, something that is argued to be rather difficult in the social-scientific discourse.

Indie Fever also pays attention to the relationships between the Indie community and Apple Inc. It argues that they have a symbiotic relationship but that the balance of power between the two is different from what one would expect from just looking at the economic dimensions. Indies substantially contribute to Apple's software innovations and play an important role in the platform's competitiveness.

Almost 50 hours of interviews were recorded for Indie Fever. These interviews were combined with the results of extensive data mining of blogs and other online resources. The resulting thesis focusses on both the cultural and economical aspects of the Mac Indie world and the ways these reinforce each other by applying theories of, amongst others, Pierre Bourdieu, Michael Porter, Norbert Elias, Chris Anderson and Malcolm Gladwell.

Any feedback, additional sources and discussion are quite welcome. Although attempt has been made to include as many perspectives as possible on the subject, there might still be some that have been missed. There is a blog devoted to the topic where reactions can be posted. Or drop the author an email at the address provided in the PDF.

Indie Fever was researched and written by Michiel van Meeteren for the University of Amsterdam, its conception was supported by a research grant from Sofa.