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This paper contributes to the reworking of the traditional concepts and methods of Science and Technology Studies that is necessary in order to analyse the development and use of social media and other emerging information infrastructures (IIs). Through long-term studies of the development of two contrasting IIs, the paper examines the prosumer-management strategies by which vendors manage their relationships with their diverse users. Despite the sharp differences between our cases – an online-game with social network features and traditional enterprise systems – we find striking homologies in the ways vendors manage the tensions underpinning the design and development of mass-market products. Thus their knowledge infrastructures – the set of tools and instruments through which vendors maintain an adequate understanding of their multiple users – change in the face of competing exigencies. Market expansion may favour ‘efficient’ quantitative user assessment methods and the construction of abstract user categories for designing new generic solutions and services around market segments. However where a product extends into new and unfamiliar user markets the growing social distance between developer and user may call for ‘richer’ direct ways of knowing the user. We note the emergence of collective fora, which can provide a space for independent action and innovation by users. However, these were managed communities. Certain user relations functions were pushed out to the community or third-party organizations and at other times pulled back in-house – for example, to increase vendor direct control. This picture is far removed from the visions of seamless integration of producers and users encouraged by notions such as prosumer.
- knowledge infrastructures
- community management strategies
- developer-user relations
- social distance
- user innovation
- Science and technology studies