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Title: Network media distribution systems: understanding the media ecology of software using an evolutionary framework
Author: Rawlings, Tomas Richard
Awarding Body: University of the West of England, Bristol
Current Institution: University of the West of England, Bristol
Date of Award: 2013
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Developed from the practice of building an open source Peer-to-Peer (P2P) distribution system, this research begins by examining the potential forking (duplicating two copies as separate entities) of a software development project. This research begins with the exploration of the discourses of forking within Software Studies and Actor Network Theory, concluding that both offer a degree of insight, especially around power relations but that they both lack predictive and temporal qualities in order to model the emergent pattems arising from the development process. As an alternative view, the research considers the idea of forking as a software-borne process of speciation, where forking establishes a barrier to source-code flow much as a geographical barrier impedes genetic exchange in biology. Exploring the existing ideas and theories of applying an evolutionary model to the development of human technology it argues that these fall into two broad areas of concern. The first of these areas considers evolution as too narrow a mechanistic process and so fails to fully account for the role of human society and culture. The second of these areas uses biological evolution as a metaphorical construct and by doing so fails to establish any solid methodological framework beyond that proxy. The research adopts the position that to fully examine technology evolution, the discourse should involve examples of technology which encompass complex assemblages of culture and technology. The research cites media as an example of such as technology and P2P as a sub-set of a media technology. Responding to the concerns with existing concepts of technology evolution, the research draws on the practice of software development to arrive at a new methodology. This method begins with the position that P2P technology has many advantages as an object of study much as biologists study fruit flies for genetic research, where P2P is analogous to studying the genotype (genetic make-up) and phenotype (visual appearance) of a biological species. Building on this idea it then argues that the source code used to create software is a parallel of DNA in form and function. From this basis the research proposes how examining the layers of committed source code of software projects can be used to establish a common analytical framework. This method allows the data gathered from this process to depict proto-phylogenetic trees of different P2P projects, giving an insight into how software forking as a form of technology speciation. It concludes that there is a form of an evolutionary process occurring within software development and outlines a hypotheSiS as to how this form operates. This hypothesis proposes that the environment is the landscape conSisting of human culture and societies, whereas the individual organism here is the particular iteration of the technology and an evolutionary process is emergent from this interaction. It then explores some predictive uses of this hypothesis.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available