Platform Innovation as Concept-fit

Technology, Culture, and Concept Development
This article is part of the Platform-for-Development (P4D) framework (2.0). The new version of the P4D framework adopts Project-oriented Activity Theory and the Ecological Practice approach as theoretical resources and uses the Supportive Cycle model as a hub of ideas development.
The Supportive Cycle model uses “Concept” as a center for curating four supportive movements together. The term “Concept” is adopted from Project-oriented Activity Theory which considers an activity as a process of formation of a brand new concept.
This article will follow this idea and develop a new framework called Concept-fit for understanding Platform Innovation.


Part 1: Background

1.1 Platform Innovation as an Intermediate Concept
1.2 The development of a new framework
1.3 A simple diagram

Part 2: Practice-based Reflection

2.1 The Rise of the Passion Economy
2.2 Two types of Concepts
2.3 Innovation as Formation of Concept
2.4 The Technology — Culture Fit
2.5 The Concept-fit Model
2.6 Out of the Box

Part 3: Theory-based Reflection

3.1 Redesign the diagram
3.2 Three Forms of Concepts
3.3 Two Fields of Evolution
3.4 Three Types of Concept-fits
3.5 Three movements of Transformations
3.6 Technological Objectification
3.7 Cultural Typification
3.8 Niche Construction

Part 4: Platform Innovation in Context

4.1 Social Representation (Serge Moscovici, 1961)
4.2 SCOT — Social Construction of Technology (Pinch & Bijker, 1984)
4.3 Narrative Economics (Robert J. Shiller, 2019)
4.4 Themes of Practice (Oliver Ding, 2019)
4.5 Concept Dynamics (Oliver Ding, 2020)
4.6 Creative Realism (Ronald A. Finke)

Epilogue: Theory as Platform?

Part 1: Background

This part offers basic ideas for this article and the Concept-fit framework. I will introduce Platform Innovation as an intermediate concept and a simple diagram of the Concept-fit framework.

1.1 Platform Innovation as an Intermediate Concept

In recent articles, I use the term “intermediate concept” to describe a specific type of concept which aims to connect theory and practice. By using intermediate concepts, I expect to make a room for theory-practice dialogue. For example, the concept of Developmental Platform is a little more abstract than the practical concept version of “platform,” but less abstract than the theoretical concept version of “platform”.
Today I am going to use the term “Platform Innovation” as an intermediate concept. We can consider it as platform-based social innovation including making platforms, using platforms, evaluating platforms, etc. This view considers Platform Innovation as a dynamic process that ties multiple sides of actors such as platform designers, platform owners, platform users, platform reviewers, regulatory authorities, etc.
An intermediate concept doesn’t tie to any theoretical account. For the Platform-for-Development framework, I adopt Project-oriented Activity Theory and the Ecological Practice approach to understand Platform Innovation. Readers can use other theoretical resources to understand Platform Innovation in other contexts.
One year ago, I published an article titled and suggested there is a need to develop a multi-perspective framework for social platform design. The idea of Platform Innovation echoes this suggestion.
There are for business innovation, technology innovation, and platform innovation in the market. What I want to contribute to the discussion is a concept-based approach which is named the Concept-fit framework.

1.2 The development of a new framework

The development of the Concept-fit framework can be considered in the following three stages.
Practice-based Reflection
Theory-based Reflection
Theory-Practice Dialogue
First, I was inspired by some innovative digital products. In January 2021, I was checking some projects on Product Hunt which is a platform for launching and finding new products. On Jan 27, I found two “passion economy” products in the community. Inspired by these products, I sent an email about them to my friends. The subject line of the email is “The passion economy and the concept-fit theory of innovation.” I drew to visualize my initial ideas of Concept-fit. This stage is Practice-based Reflection, I just directly make a model for understanding digital innovation. It was said in a flash of intuition. I didn’t adopt any theoretical concept for writing the email.
Second, I continuously worked on improving the initial Concept-fit model in February. I adopted a series of theoretical resources to help me reflect on the model. Some theoretical resources are from my own works such as Concept Dynamic Project, Themes of Practice, Project-oriented Activity Theory, and the Ecological Practice approach. Other theoretical resources are from other people’s works such as Social Representation (Serge Moscovici, 1961), SCOT — Social Construction of Technology (Trevor Pinch & Wiebe Bijker, 1984), and Narrative economics (Robert J. Shiller, 2019). I used the WXMY diagram to visualize and renamed it the Concept-fit framework.
Third, based on the new version of the model and the new diagram, I connected them with my own two theoretical works: Project-oriented Activity Theory and the Ecological Practice approach. I adopted “Formation of Concept” from Project-oriented Activity Theory and “Affordance — Supportance” from the Ecological Practice approach to enhance the framework. At this stage, I realized that the Concept-fit framework is a great application of these two meta-theories.
The following sections will share more details about these three stages.

1.3 A simple diagram

I have made several diagrams for developing the framework in the past two months. Let’s start with the following simple one:
The above diagram is based on . Blue circles refer to technological concepts and green circles refer to sociocultural concepts. Each side has three levels of concepts. Thus, the term “Concept-fit” means six types of concepts fit together from two sides and three levels.
Technological concepts at the Theoretical level
Technological concepts at the Operational level
Technological concepts at the Product level
Sociocultural concepts at the Collective level
Sociocultural concepts at the Individual level
Sociocultural concepts at the Project level

The distinction between Technological concepts and Sociocultural concepts corresponds to the distinction between Natural science and Social science/humanities. Thus, the socio-cultural concepts refer to any non-technological concepts including political concepts and economical concepts.
Readers may argue that this is an oppositional dualism: . However, it is better to consider the above U diagram as a spectrum. We should think about nature and culture as part of the spectrum as a whole. Moreover, I will adopt Hegel’s theory of Concept for understanding these three levels. It will provide us with a great approach to thinking dynamic process of fit between nature and culture.

Part 2: Practice-based Reflection

This part provides the details of practice-based reflection. The Concept-fit framework was initiated as a rough model.

2.1 The Rise of the Passion Economy

In Oct 2019, Li Jin published an article titled . She reviewed the development of online labor marketplaces and argued there is a new trend that is different from gig works. In order to emphasize the significance of the new trend, Li Jin made a distinction between Gig Economy and Passion Economy from five dimensions.
Since the article was published, the term “Passion Economy” has become very popular. Someone
, “I immediately felt a deep connection to the zeitgeist Li was describing.” Some authors also follow Li Jin and coined “Passion Economy” related new terms such as “” and “”.
People also use similar terms to describe similar trends. For example, “Creator Economy (
),” “Influencer Economy (
),“Knowledge Entrepreneur (
),” “Social Companies (
),” “Microentrepreneurs (
)”. An interesting thing is that Li Jin used “Creator Economy” for her 2020 article . Why didn’t she use “Passion Economy” for the title of this article? What’s the difference between “Creator Economy” and “Passion Economy”? It seems these terms are interchangeable.

2.2 Two types of Concepts

I classify such terms as Sociocultural Concepts because they refer to social behaviors and social phenomena. The value of Sociocultural Concepts is for ordinary communication and professional practices. By sharing such terms, we can exchange our insights on emerging social needs and changes of society.
By contrast, Technological Concepts refer to scientific theoretical knowledge and operational techniques. For example, “,” “,” “
,” “,” “,” “,” and “”. The value of Technological Concepts is for scientific discovery, academic research, and their industrial applications. It helps scientists, theorists, researchers, engineers, teachers, and designers on producing new knowledge and transform abstract knowledge into concrete practice.
It’s hard to make a simple and accurate typology. My goal is to distinguish Concepts into Sociocultural types and Technological types. The above definitions may not be accurate, however, the distinction is already described by the terms “sociocultural” and “technological”. In fact, some concepts are both sociocultural concepts and technological concepts. For instance, “
,” “
,” “,” “,” “
,” etc. In order to keep a simple starting point, let’s remain this rough distinction.
The “Sociocultural Concepts v.s. Technological Concepts” distinction echoes existing discussions about innovation such as “Market Pull v.s. Technology Push” and “Needs-first v.s. Ideas-first.” According to the authors of Value Proposition Design (2014), “Market Pull” means “start from a manifest customer job, pain, or gain for which you design a value proposition. In simple terms, this is a problem in search of a solution.” On the other side, “Technology Push” means “start from an invention, innovation, or (technological) resource for which you develop a value proposition that addresses a customer's job, pain, and gain. In simple terms, this is a solution in search of a problem.”
Source: Value Proposition Design (2014, pp.94–95)
Similarly, Anthony W. Ulwick points out two mainstream approaches to innovation in his 2016 book Jobs To Be Done. He says, “Today’s most popular approaches to innovation fall into one of two types: those that begin with a focus on solutions (or ideas) and those that begin with a focus on customer needs.” (2018, p.31)
Ideas-first: Companies brainstorm or otherwise come up with product or service ideas and then test them with customers to see how well the ideas address the customer’s needs.
Needs-first: Companies first learn what the customer’s needs are, then discover which needs are unmet, and then devise a solution that addresses those unmet needs.

Both Value Proposition Design and Jobs To Be Done are books only about business innovation. However, the term Platform Innovation is not only about Platform as a Business, but also Platform-based Social Practice. While the authors of these two books focus on consumers-first approach, my distinction between “Sociocultural concepts” and “Technological concepts” is a foundation for discussing business innovation, technology innovation, and cultural innovation.
For example, Google is a great example of platform innovation. From the perspective of Concept-fit, we can find some technological concepts for Google case study, for example, “,” and “.” A related sociocultural concept is “
” which stands for Search Engine Optimization. According to Wikipedia, “Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of improving the quality and quantity of website traffic to a website or a web page from search engines.” As a concrete practice of Internet Marketing, SEO experts pay attention to how search engines work and try to “game” the system in order to receive visitors from Google or other search engines. Without search engines, there is no need to adopt the concept of SEO. In other words, SEO is a platform-based social practice while the search engine is a technological platform innovation.

2.3 Innovation as Formation of Concept

An existing concept can refer to an established social practice which means an institutionalized innovation. While Search Engine was a technological innovation in the 1990s, it is an institutionalized innovation in 2021. It’s so hard to find a new opportunity for technological innovation in Search Engines in 2021. If an existing concept has a short history, then the social practice behind the concept is not fully institutionalized. For example, the concept of “Passion Economy” is a fresh idea, the social practice behind the concept is not solid enough. However, some startup teams would adapt existing technologies to develop some innovative products for the rise of “Passion Economy.” This process is called objectification of concept.
Now it is time to adopt some ideas from the Project-oriented Activity Theory. One important core of the theory is the notion of “activity as formation of concept”. I have mentioned there are three phases of formation of concept in y: Phase 1: Initialization; Phase 2: Objectification; Phase 3: Institutionalization.
The notion of three phases is inspired by Blunden’s case study “Collaborative Learning Space.” You can find details from the previous article . I have to point out, Blunden is relatively unconcerned with demarcating the boundaries between the successive phases of a project. We should consider the above diagram as a rough representation. Blunden definitely uses “Objectification” and “Institutionalization” in his writings. However, he doesn’t obviously use the term “Initialization”.
Usually, people adopt a new concept in three ways: 1) read messages about the concept, 2) touch an exemplar of the concept, and 3) take an action which is guided by the concept. These three ways work together. For example, Li Jun coined the term "Passion Economy" and wrote an article about it. Her article highlights several examples of Passion Economy. Finally, people have to make or use one or more products of Passion Economy to gain the real experience of the concept.
Once a new trend has a name such as "Passion Economy," it would quickly become a piece of common knowledge and is possibly known by everyone in the market. Then, the trend would lead to a highly competitive market because firms would follow the trend and invest in more sources to develop a better quality product and more budgets for aggressive marketing. It is so easy to recreate the same product with a little modification and rebranding works. Eventually, the early teams will lose their competition advantages if they can't build their brands and enough customer base in a short duration.
Obviously, the market of "Passion Economy" is a highly competitive market in 2021. We should notice that the great exemplar of "Passion Economy" is Patreon which was founded in 2013. If we consider KickStarter as a member of the family of "Passion Economy," then we can say the category of "Passion Economy" has over 10 years history since KickStarter was founded in 2009. Usually, Kickstarter is considered an exemplar of "Crowdfunding." However, a concrete product can be considered as an exemplar of several concepts.
The goal of Project-oriented Activity Theory is not for developing a theoretical framework for platform innovation. Thus, there is a need to develop an intermediate framework which can connect the theory and the practice. Also, the intermediate framework has its own creative space such as the distinction between “Sociocultural concepts” and “Technological concepts”.

2.4 The Technology — Culture Fit

Following the popular discussion on business innovation, I adopt the word “Fit” and combine it with “Concept.” The outcome is “Concept-fit” which leads to a brand new intermediate framework for discussing platform innovation.
According to Tren Griffin, the concept of “” was developed and named by Andy Rachleff who is President & CEO of Wealthfront and a co-founder of Benchmark Capital. The concept was inspired by the investing style of the pioneering venture capitalist and Sequoia founder Don Valentine. The context of the concept is the investing style. Griffin points out, “One way to look at venture capital investing and creating a valuable business is as an effort to build a stool with three legs: people, markets, and innovative products. All three legs are required for success, but different venture capitalists and entrepreneurs emphasize and weight each of the three core elements differently at different times.”
Some venture capitalists, like Pitch Johnson and Arthur Rock, consider the quality of entrepreneurs first. James Currier (), a Managing Partner at NFX, provided a thinking schema called . He identified four dimensions that contribute to Founder-Market Fit: Obsession, Founder Story, Personality and Experience.
The authors of Value Proposition Design suggest three types of fit. They say, “Searching for Fit is the process of designing value propositions around products and services that meet jobs, pains, and gains that customers really care about. Fit between what a company offers and what customers want is the number one requirement of a successful value proposition.” (2014, pp.48–49) They use a stage view to classify three types of occurrence of fit.
Problem-Solution Fit on Paper: when you identify relevant customer jobs, pains, and gains. You believe you can address your value proposition.
Product-Market Fit in the Market: when customers positively react to your value proposition and it gets traction in the market.
Business Model Fit in the Bank: when you find a business model that is scalable and profitable.

The focus of Platform Innovation is neither venture capital investment nor business model. In fact, I place Platform Innovation at the context of “technology — culture fit” or “technology — society fit” in general sense. In a previous article titled , I mentioned three challenges for Platform Ecology. One challenge is the Technology — Society relationship. The technology—society relationship refers to the debate around Technological Determinism in social science. There are two major accounts about the debate. On the one hand, technological determinism claims that technologies have a strong and defining influence upon whole complexes of cultural shifts that make the problem of locating agency difficult. Some authors suggest that it is better to place determinism on a spectrum of beliefs about the nature or degree of deterministic possibility. On the other side, social constructionism argues that technology is a social construct and it can be interpreted and reinterpreted depending upon the people involved, the context or situation in which it is designed, developed, or deployed, and the historical moment it resides within. (Robert R. Johnson, 1998. p.87, p.93)
By adopting ideas from Project-oriented Activity Theory and the Ecological Practice approach, the Concept-fit Framework takes a small step for responding to the “technology — society” debate at theoretical level. It also offers a new perspective for practitioners of Platform Innovation at the practice level.

2.5 The Concept-fit Model

The Concept-fit framework grew from a rough idea with the following diagram. This is the initial version of the Concept-fit framework.
The above diagram shows three types of Concept-fit:
First fit: sociocultural concepts v.s. technological concepts (idea development)
Second fit: concept v.s. exemplar (product development)
Third fit: product v.s. culture (market development)

These three stages correspond to the stages of innovation: idea development, product development, and market development. For the second fit, the term “concept” refers to “product concept” or “product idea”.
Let’s see an ideal concept-fit case of three types of concept-fit: Blockchain and Bitcoin.
First fit:While Blockchain is a technological concept, Bitcoin is a socio-cultural concept.
Second fit:Bitcoin is the exemplar of Blockchain technology. Without a concrete product or service, you can’t touch Blockchain technology. You can only read books, articles or papers about the concept of Blockchain.
Third fit: The Bitcoin project brings a new impact to global society because it challenges the existing concept of payment and currency. It challenges normal social laws. The product—culture fit of Bitcoin is a complex and dynamic process since each country could change its policies on cryptocurrency.
This initial model emphasizes the perspective of innovators. The second fit “Concept v.s. Exemplar” is only about internal processes within a team.

2.6 Out of the Box

Based on the above initial model, I went further by asking the following two questions:
How to develop a brand new technological concept and a brand new sociocultural concept? Here “brand new” refers to real new concepts, not some new words which still refer to some existing concepts.
How to evaluate and confirm a concept as a brand new concept?
For technological concepts, it seems we can distinguish between Theoretical level and Operational level. For example, Ubiquitous Computing is a theoretical level technological concept that attracts scientists and academic researchers while Responsive Web Design is an operational level technological concept that attracts professionals and practitioners such as engineers and consultants.
Then, I realized this two-level method is great for expanding the initial model. Thus, I applied the same logic to sociocultural concepts and made a distinction between the Collective level and the Individual level. This distinction can be seen as “concept-in-text” and “concept-in-use.” At the collective level, people share a concept with its text and a common-sense behind the text. This is “concept-in-text.” However, if we ask a person about his understanding of a particular sociocultural concept, we get the answer which reflects his cognitive preference and his past experience with the concept. This is “concept-in-use”.
Let’s use the concept of “Passion Economy” as an example. Suppose an entrepreneur wants to develop a new platform for “Passion Economy.” He starts the process of ideation from the concept of “Passion Economy” at the Collective level. According to Li Jin, the new platforms of “Passion Economy” share five commonalities: 1) They’re accessible to everyone, not only existing businesses and professionals; 2) They view individuality as a feature, not a bug; 3) They focus on digital products and virtual services; 4) They provide holistic tools to grow and operate a business; 5) They open doors to a new form of work. Though these five commonalities give a clear boundary of the concept, it still remains at too general level. The entrepreneur should move to the individual level by researching the examples Li Jin offered, he may copy one of the examples and modify it in order to make a difference. He may find a brand new idea which is different from existing platforms and still remain it as a member of the category of Passion Economy. At this movement, he reaches the individual level of the concept of Passion Economy.
The notion of two-level concepts broke the initial diagram of the Concept-fit model, so I redesigned a diagram and adopted some theoretical resources for further elaboration. This led to the process of Theory-based Reflection.

Part 3 Theory-based Reflection

The Theory-based Reflection adopts several theoretical frameworks as tools for elaborating the Concept-fit framework. The major theoretical resources are Project-oriented Activity Theory and the Ecological Practice approach.

3.1 Redesign the diagram

I use a framework called to organize my own knowledge works. The core of the framework is the Diagram U which presents six types of “Objectives of Knowledge.” In fact, the HERO U framework is originally developed from the following model:
The concept of Container is the core of . By adjusting the quality and quantity of the Container, we can create advanced frameworks for discussing complex phenomena. The quality of the Container can be potential and actual, the quantity of the Container can be one or two. If we develop a new framework with one potential container and two actual containers, the outcome is the above diagram.
I named the potential container (Container Z) Echozone which refers to a creative space containing echoes between the Container X and the Container Y. The term “Echo” of “Echozone” refers to a dialogue between two containers.
The above diagram sets a foundation for boundary innovation. A more concrete version is . WXMY stands for When X Meets Y. The WXMY diagram says nothing about practical issues, but pure abstract relations between two groups of entities. Container X means one group which contains entity X and its related entity X’. Y and its related entity Y’ form another group Container Y in the same way. When X meets Y, there is a new group called Container Z which emerges from the process of coupling, connecting, competing, cooperating, and interacting between X and Y.
The WXMY diagram is not a practical framework for directly solving a domain problem, but it can generate domain diagrams if you use it to visualize your ideas about a particular issue in a special context. By using the WXMY diagram, you can create your framework. The HERO U framework is generated from the WXMY diagram. In fact, the original name of the HERO U framework is When Theory Meets Practice.
Now let’s apply the same method to redesign a diagram for the Concept-fit model. First, let’s change the name to When Technology Meets Culture. Second, let’s place six types of concepts into the diagram. The result is the following diagram.
Where are the three types of fits? What’s the Concept-fit Space? What’s Social Representation? What are the Themes of Practice?
Since we use the two-level method to understand technological concepts and sociocultural concepts, the first fit refers to the following four sub-fits.
1) a fit between high-level concepts between technological field and sociocultural field;
2) a fit between lower-level concepts between technological field and sociocultural field;
3) a fit between high-level concepts and lower concepts in the technological field;
4) a fit between high-level concepts and lower concepts in the sociocultural field.
The second fit (concept v.s. exemplar) and third fit (product v.s. culture) are contained by the Concept-fit Space which is the Container Z.
At the high level of Concept-fit between technological field and Sociocultural field, I adopt Social Representation theory as a theoretical resource. The theory was developed by Serge Moscovici who coined the term social representation in 1961. The term refers to the collective elaboration “of a social object by the community for the purpose of behaving and communicating.” The theory has parallels in sociological theorizing such as social constructionism and symbolic interactionism.
The Project-oriented Activity Theory was initiated by Andy Blunden in 2010 with the ambition of expanding the psychological version of Activity Theory into an interdisciplinary theory of Activity. Blunden uses “Project” as a unit of analysis for the new theory. As a theoretical notion, the term “Project” refers to a process of “Concept Formation”. I am recently working on expanding Bludnen’s approach by adding my own ideas such as “Zone of Project” and “Themes of Practice”.
In fact, there are more theoretical ideas behind the new diagram. The following sections will discuss these ideas one by one.

3.2 Three Forms of Concepts

The new diagram considers Product and Project as Forms of Concept too. How is it possible?
As mentioned above, one theoretical resource behind the new version of diagram is Project-oriented Activity Theory. The theory adopts a unique perspective to understand “Concepts.” The theory is initiated by Andy Blunden with a special proposal of “Project as a unit of Activity”.
In order to develop the theoretical foundation of “Project as a unit of Activity”, Blunden adopts Hegel’s Logic and Vygotsky’s theory about Concepts as theoretical resources. The process is documented in three books: An Interdisciplinary Theory of Activity (2010), Concepts: A Critical Approach (2012), and Collaborative Projects: An Interdisciplinary Study (2014).
Blunden points out, “As Hegel explained, every concept exists as Individual, Particular and Universal. These three moments of the concept are never completely in accord. There is always a measure of dissonance between them, and this is manifested in the dynamics of the concept. What an individual means when they use the word is never quite the same as the meaning produced in any other context.” (2012, p.295)
The above diagram adopts “Universal,” “Individual,” and “Particular” for Concept-fit. In this way, we can consider “Product” and “Project” as the Particular movement of Concept. In order words, at the theoretical abstract level, Concept-fit means “Universal fit,” “Individual fit,” and “Particular fit”. The original second fit “concept v.s. exemplar” is removed from the new version, the reason is this process is not a fit but a transformation between different forms of concept.
So, the new framework is constructed with two Fields and three Forms. Two Fields refer to the Technological Field and the Sociocultural Field. Three Forms refer to three movements of Concept: Universal, Individual, and Particular.
Usually, we consider a concept as a mental object which refers to a bundle of attributes or features. This view is influenced by contemporary psychology and formal logic. We have to notice that Blunden adopts a different view of Concept which is based on Hegel’s philosophy and dialectical logic. According to Blunden (2012, pp.156–157), Hegel uses the following three movements to describe the internal development of the Concept:
Universal: the Universal Concept is what is represented by a word (or in general, the sign for a concept) taken alone, outside of any determination or context of use. The meaning is entirely ‘in itself’, waiting to be developed, but at the same time is ‘pure’, in that every utterance is identical…Hegel links the Universal Concept to Identity because it is taken to be self-identical.
Particular: the Particular Concept is a practice which differentiates one kind of the Concept, one genus of the species from another through its inclusion and differentiation in a system of social practice. The Universal Concept can only come to reality through particularity, by determining the Universal…While it is an error to represent the Concept by means of some finite collection of exemplars, the Universal can exist only in and through some exemplars.
Individual: the Individual Concept is the sole ground of the concept, in and through which alone the Concept can exist. The Individual Concept is the limit case of the Particular Concept, where it is not just some things, but this thing which is the Concept, the ground of all generalization…Individual, reduces the Concept to a common element linking the individuals. This is an extremely poor representation of a Concept…
For Platform Innovation, the Universal form of concept includes Theoretical level technological concepts and Collective level sociocultural concepts. The Individual form of concept includes Operational level technological concepts and Individual level sociocultural concepts. The Particular form of concept includes Product and Project. Here we can understand Product as Platform and Project as Platform-based activity or practice because Project-oriented Activity Theory uses Project as the unit of analysis of Activity.
Obviously, Hegel’s approach to Concept is more systematic than the approach of “concept-in-text / concept-in-use” I used in the early discussion.

3.3 Two Fields of Evolution

As mentioned above, my theoretical focus is on the “technology — culture” or “technology — society” relationship. This issue refers to the debate around Technological Determinism in social science. There are two major accounts of the debate: technological determinism v.s. social constructionism.
For Platform Innovation, I consider two fields as the context of Concept-fit:
Technological field
Sociocultural field
Here the term “field” is inspired by French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu’s concept of Field. For Bourdieu, a social field is a social container that contains social agents and their various social practices such as production, circulation, and appropriation and exchange of goods, services, knowledge, or status. The concept of Field connects to Habitus and Capital. Bourdieu develops a typology of Capital: economic capital, symbolic capital, cultural capital and social capital.
The benefit of adopting Bourdieu’s ideas is that we can connect Concepts with Capital. For Bourdieu, is about the resources available to an individual on the basis of honor, prestige or recognition, and serves as value that one holds within a culture. We can consider Authorship of Concept as a special type of symbolic capital. If a person creates a brand new concept and the concept is accepted by others, then we can claim that the person has a unique symbolic capital due to the production of the concept. refers to a person’s cultural knowledge related social assets such as education, competencies, skills, qualifications, style of speech, style of dress, etc. Here we can consider Readership of Concept as a special type of cultural capital. Since a brand new concept is a cultural knowledge of social change, the way of accepting , understanding, and using the new concept creates a new social practice. While authors of concepts own symbolic capital, readers of concepts own cultural capital.
From the perspective of the Ecological Practice approach, I prefer “Possible Practice” rather than “Existing Practice.” Thus, the debate about technological determinism is not very attractive to me. What I really care about is the possibilities offered by technology, culture or both. Also, However, Bourdieu’s theory doesn’t consider possible practice too much. Thus, we need to adopt ideas from the Ecological Practice approach for discussing the evolution of the social practice.
The Affordance — Supportance potential hierarchical loop is the newest development of the Ecological Practice approach. I have introduced the notion in the article . I also provided a deep discussion about . For Platform Innovation, we can start our discussion from the following diagram:
The Platform-ba is defined as a platform-based sociocultural field that contains a platform-based social practice. For example, YouTube is a platform, the YouTube-ba is the YouTube-base sociocultural field. The Platform-ba is an emergent social substance that is formed by people who have relations to a platform. While a platform is designed, managed, and controlled by its owner, its platform-ba is determined by people, the users, and stakeholders of the platform.
The above diagram assigns Affordance/Supportance to Platform/Platform-ba. The concept of Affordance is introduced by Ecological Psychologist James J. Gibson in his book The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception. For Gibson, his theoretical focus is What is there to be perceived?His answer is Affordances. According to Gibson, “The affordances of the environment are what it offers the animal, what it provides or furnishes, either for good or ill.” (p.119).
Inspired by Affordance, I coined the term Supportance and developed it as a theoretical concept for discussing the potential supportive possibilities for actions within the relationship “social environment — person.” The concept of Supportance is similar to Affordance, both of which point to the potential action possibilities. However, the concept Affordance only applies to the natural environment and material environment, it only discusses the perception from the psychological perspective.
The above table represents a series of distinctions with the same idea. The distinction between Sociocultural concepts and Technological concepts corresponds to the distinction between Social environment and Material Environment.
Gibson doesn’t agree with the distinction between artificial environment and natural environment. I follow his stance and consider natural/physical/technological environments as a whole, let’s call it “material environment.” However, we have to notice Gibson’s idea of “one world, however diverse.” In order to discuss the complexity of the one world, we need a concept such as ‘social environment’ to describe the diverse context of social life. Thus, I believe that there is a need to adopt the ‘social environment’ as a new unit of analysis while remaining the basic philosophical stance behind Gibson’s ecological psychology.
At the first layer of ecological analysis, Affordance is assigned to Platform. As the basic environment, a platform offers ecological affordances to its users and stakeholders. By actualizing the platform’s affordances, people take real actions which form activities. People and their activities form a platform-ba. Then, some people and their activities offer Supportances to other people. In order to simplify the discussion, we can say that the platform-ba offers Supportances to people.
For Platform Innovation, we care about the evolution of Affordances and Supportances. The most important idea is the relationship between Concepts and Affordances/Supportances. From the perspective of the Ecological Practice approach, actions mean Actualizing Affordances and Supportances. If a creative action is accepted and recognized by people, it will be named with a word and the word will become a concept. From the perspective of Project-oriented Activity Theory, this process is called Symbolic Objectification.
According to Blunden, “Firstly, the moment someone first communicates the concept of the project it is given a name or symbolically represented in some other way, after which the word or symbol functions as a focus for actions. The word eventually enters the language and acquires nuances and meaning through the development of the project and its interaction with other projects and institutions.” (2014, p.9)
Now, we see a great time window between the status of Creative Action and the status of Symbolic Objectification. You see some things new happen in the real world but they have not been named yet. This is the perfect timing for Platform Innovation.

3.4 Three Types of Concept-fits

The above discussion leads to a three-step model of platform innovation:
Step 1: Orientation Development
Step 2: Product Development
Step 3: Market Development
These three steps correspond to three movements of formation of concept: “Universal,” “Individual,” and “Particular”. Though we use steps to describe the process, we should notice this is not a simple linear path.
We should consider both the platform developers and platform users within the same dynamic process. In order to explain the complexity of the dynamics, let’s use “fit,” “unfit,” and “refit” as three types of Concept-fit.
Fit: the concept-fit process guides platform developers to design and launch a product.
Unfit: the concept-fit process guides platform users to discover affordances and supportances in non-design purposes. New sociocultural concepts could emerge within users’ creative actions.
Refit: Platform developers could learn from Users’ creative actions and new sociocultural concepts, then they could develop new features with new concept-fit between technological concepts and sociocultural concepts.

From the perspective of developers of platforms, we should go from universal to individual, then from individual to particular. The goal of orientation development is Technological — Sociocultural fit at the Universal level, the outcome is a rough idea that guides the direction of platform innovation. The goal of product development is Technological — Sociocultural fit at the Individual level, the outcome is a validated prototype of a product. The goal of market development is Technological — Sociocultural fit at the Particular level, the outcome is a particular scale of user base and market share.
Now we have matched three movements of concept with three stages of traditional business development: Idea, Prototype, and User base. However, it always takes detouring, turning, or escaping. The field of innovation calls it “Pivot” or “Shift”.
From the perspective of platform users, they have the freedom to use any product in two ways, the first way is the normal approach and the second way is the novel approach. The normal approach means using a product in the way which is defined by its designers with planned purposes. The novel approach refers to using a product in a way that is not defined by its designers. The reason why users can use a product in the novel approach is the principle of affordance. From the perspective of ecological psychology, any product can be considered as an environment, then, users can perceive the product’s various affordances in order to service their situational needs. The affordances of any product can be divided into two sets, one set is normal affordances which are offered as features by designers, and the other set is novel affordances which are beyond official features.
For social platforms, we need to consider Supportances too. As mentioned above, Supportances are offered by Platform-ba which is defined by platform users and their activities. Thus, the Supportances are not controlled by platform developers.
Thus, platform users will use platforms in various ways to serve their various purposes. These rich and colorful activities can be considered an incubator and an accelerator of brand new socio-cultural concepts. The diversity of platform-ba would produce abundant sociocultural concepts which represent diverse actions and ideas.

3.5 Three movements of Transformation

The above section discussed three types of Concept-fit at concrete level. Now let’s move to the abstract level to discuss the issue of social innovation. I consider the platform-based social innovation as the outcome of three movements of transformation:
Technological Objectification
Cultural Typification
Niche Construction
The term Technological Objectification is inspired by Project-oriented Activity Theory. The term Cultural Typification is inspired by Alfred Schutz’s insights on types and typification. The term Niche Construction is adopted from Niche Construction Theory (NCT). Let’s discuss these three topics one by one in the following sections.

3.6 Technological Objectification

The term Objectification is an important idea of . Andy Blunden clearly claims that there are three aspects of objectification of concept: symbolic, instrumental, and practical.
According to Blunden, “Firstly, the moment someone first communicates the concept of the project it is given a name or symbolically represented in some other way, after which the word or symbol functions as a focus for actions. The word eventually enters the language and acquires nuances and meaning through the development of the project and its interaction with other projects and institutions.” (2014, p.9) This is symbolic objectification. I highlight “Verbal” and “Visual” as two tendencies of symbolic objectification. Its orientation is “Embed” which means the name will be used within the language of the community and the logo or other symbols will be used with materials.
The second aspect of objectification is instrumental objectification. According to Blunden, “Secondly, the project may be objectified by the invention and production of some new instrument or by the construction of material artifacts which facilitate or constrain actions in line with the project and facilitate its integration into the life of a community. The word in which the project is symbolically objectified may then be taken as referencing this artifact, reifying the concept as if it were an independently existing object, rather than an ideal functioning as the focus of a new form of social practice which constitutes it.” (2014, p.9)
Here we see Blunden clearly points out there are two ways of adopting instruments. I use the term “designed” to refer to “by the invention and production of some new instrument” and the term “found” to refer to “by the construction of material artifacts which facilitate or constrain actions in line with the project and facilitate its integration into the life of a community.” You can find details about “Designed/Found” in my article about artifacts and the materiality turn: .
The most important is practical objectification. According to Blunden, “…once the project achieves relatively permanent changes in the social practices of a community, the project transforms from a social movement into customary and routinized practices — an institution. In this instance, the word may be taken as referencing the form of practice in which the project has been given practical objectification and normalized.” (2014p.9) The practical objectification refers to participant, participatory, and community. That is the connection between concept and activity.
Technological Objectification refers to the objectification of technological concepts. We can understand the process by adopting the above three aspects of general objectification. Readers can find more details about general objectification in .

3.7 Cultural Typification

The term Typification is an important idea of Alfred Schutz’s phenomenology which focuses on everyday life. For Schutz, the primary interest is the general types of characteristics of common-sense thinking — in contrast to the “nonessential” types of the social sciences. According to Tomas Da Costa, “Following Edmund Husserl’s description of typification processes, Schutz considers the world of everyday life as constituted from the outset through typified experiences and expectations of the individual.”
In Schutz’s theoretical framework, Typification connects to Relevance and Habits. Costa points out, “Typification and system of relevances determinate, together, according to Schutz, the emergence of constructs in common-sense thinking. Habits, on the other hand, have their origin in the necessary typicality of daily life, they are only possible because the world cannot be experienced in totality, but through the selection of relevances, through typifications.”
Schutz’s phenomenological approach to typification has been adopted by rhetorical studies. According to Charles Bazerman (
), “There is now an extensive literature on genre as typification in rhetoric and writing studies, including Charles Bazerman, Shaping Written Knowledge (1988); Berkenkotter and Huckin, Genre Knowledge (1995); Freedman and Medway, eds. Genre and the New Rhetoric (1994).”
Schutz’s focus is our stock of knowledge and its habitual possessions. I pay attention to the process of social innovation from the perspective of Concept-fit. I use the term Cultural Typification to describe the formation process of new sociocultural concepts. In other words, the generalization of new knowledge of everyday life. Though Concept and Genre are related, the major difference between Concept and Genre is that a Concept is a text while a Genre is a form of texts. Of course, a particular Genre is a concept. For example, Open Letter is a genre and “Open Letter” is a concept that refers to the particular genre. However, not every concept is a genre. For example, “Tree” is a concept, we can’t claim that Tree is a genre.
In a simple word, I use Cultural Typification to describe the process of conceptualizing daily platform-based social practice. As mentioned above, “…platform users will use platforms in various ways to serve their various purposes. These rich and colorful activities can be considered an incubator and an accelerator of brand new sociocultural concepts. The diversity of platform-ba would produce abundant sociocultural concepts which represent diverse actions and ideas.” Following this description, now let’s define the term Cultural Typification as the process of giving a name to some creative actions and promoting it as a new social practice. This process is about perceiving, reflecting, categorizing, naming, etc. The input of the process is the daily actions while the outcome of the process is new sociocultural concepts.
Since the process of Cultural Typification is a process of formation concept. The three aspects of Objectification of concepts are also suitable for understanding Cultural Typification. Moreover, I pay attention to the process of generating new ideas of concepts from platform-based daily actions.

3.8 Niche Construction

In the past several decades, evolutionary biologists have developed new theories for expanding and which combines Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution and Gregor Mendel’s idea on heredity. One promising theory is niche construction theory (NCT) and its core term was coined by Oxford biologist John Odling-Smee in 1988. Odling-Smee argued that ‘niche construction’ and ‘’ should be recognized as evolutionary processes.
In 2011, Jeremy Kendal, Jamshid J. Tehrani and Odling-Smee published a paper titled . They claimed, “NCT differs from standard evolutionary theory (SET) in recognizing that the evolution of organisms is co-directed by both natural selection and niche construction…NCT is put to better use when formulating new hypotheses, or building a more general evolutionary framework within which other theories can be subsumed. NCT provides mechanisms by which currently disconnected bodies of theory, such as evolutionary and developmental biology, or human cultural evolution and structuration theory can be united.”
If we adopt NCT for discussing Platform Innovation, then we can see Platforms as newest forms of environments. People are not controlled by their environment, they also could modify their local environment to serve their life. Besides, both technological concepts and sociocultural concepts can be considered semantic information which is a part of ecological inheritance.
I’d like to point out that my term doesn’t match the term Niche of NCT because they belong to two different theoretical frameworks. Infoniche doesn’t refer to the local environment or habitat, but a set of Affordances and Supportances. The term Niche of NCT means an organism’s surrounding habitat. I use Infoniche as an intermediate framework, we don’t need to use the term Infoniche for discussing Platform Innovation since we can use Affordances and Supportance directly.

Part 4: Platform Innovation in Context

I also mentioned several theoretical resources for the Concept-fit framework. Though these ideas are not primary support to the framework, it is worth mentioning the following ideas as context of our discussion.
Social Representation(Serge Moscovici, 1961)
SCOT — Social Construction of Technology(Trevor Pinch & Wiebe Bijker, 1984)
Narrative economics(Robert J. Shiller, 2019)
Themes of Practice (Oliver Ding, 2019)
Concept Dynamics (Oliver Ding, 2020)
Creative Realism (Ronald A. Finke)


4.1 Social Representation (Serge Moscovici, 1961)

Social Representation Theory was introduced by Serge Moscovici in his 1961 doctoral thesis La psychanalyse, son image, son public which focuses on the dynamics of the social construction of psychoanalysis as a scientific canon. A social representation is understood as the collective elaboration of a social object by the community for the purpose of behaving and communicating. According to Moscovici, a social representation is a “system of values, ideas and practices with a twofold function: first to establish an order which will enable individuals to orient themselves in their material and social world and to master it; and secondly to enable communication … by providing a code for social exchange and a code for naming and classifying unambiguously the various aspects of their worlds and their individual and group history”(as cited in Wolfgang Wagner et al., 1999).
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