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


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.