, Volume 110, Issue 1, pp 417–442 | Cite as

Creating impact in the digital space: digital practice dependency in communities of digital scientific innovations

  • Sabine Brunswicker
  • Sorin Adam Matei
  • Michael Zentner
  • Lynn Zentner
  • Gerhard Klimeck


Modern science has become collaborative and digital. The Internet has supported the emergence of scientific digital platforms that globally connect programmers and users of novel digital scientific products such as scientific interactive software tools. These digital scientific innovations complement traditional text-based products like journal publications. This article is focused on the scientific impact of a platform’s programming community that produces these digital scientific innovations. The article’s main theoretical argument is that beyond an individual’s contribution efforts to these innovations, a new social structure affects his scientific recognition through citations of his tools in text-based publications. Taking a practice theory lens, we introduce the concept of a digital practice structure that emerges from the digital innovation work practice, performed by programmers who jointly work on a tool. This digital practice creates dependence forces among the community members in an analogy to Newton’s gravity concept. Our model represents such dependencies in a spatial autocorrelative model. We empirically estimate this model using data of the programming community of nanoHUB in which 477 nanotechnology tool programmers have contributed more than 715 million lines of code. Our results show that a programmer’s contributions to digital innovations may have positive effects, while the digital practice structure creates negative dependency effects. Colloquially speaking, being surrounded by star performers can be harmful. Our findings suggest that modeling scientific impact needs to account for a scientist’s contribution to programming communities that produce digital scientific innovations and the digital work structures in which these contributions are embedded.


Digital scientific innovation Scientific collaboration Social structure Programmer communities Network autocorrelation Social distance 

Mathematics Subject Classification

91B72 91D30 

JEL Classification

C11 C20 O30 



This work was initiated under the auspices of the Exploratory Research in Social Science Grant of the Executive Office of the Vice President for Research (OVPR) at Purdue University (PI Sorin Adam Matei and Gerhard Klimeck) and was supported by the NSF award 1255781. We thank Philip Munyua, Kang-Yu Hsu, Srikant Rao, Steven Clark, and Swaroop Samek at Purdue University for their support in data processing and analysis.

Supplementary material

11192_2016_2106_MOESM1_ESM.docx (13.9 mb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 14209 kb)


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Copyright information

© Akadémiai Kiadó, Budapest, Hungary 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sabine Brunswicker
    • 1
  • Sorin Adam Matei
    • 2
  • Michael Zentner
    • 3
  • Lynn Zentner
    • 4
  • Gerhard Klimeck
    • 4
  1. 1.Research Center for Open Digital Innovation (RCODI), Discovery ParkPurdue UniversityWest LafayetteUSA
  2. 2.Brian Lamb School of CommunicationPurdue UniversityWest LafayetteUSA
  3. 3.ITaP/RCACPurdue UniversityWest LafayetteUSA
  4. 4.Network for Computational Nanotechnology (NCN)Purdue UniversityWest LafayetteUSA

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