Article | Research Policy | May 2014

Digital Dark Matter and the Economic Contribution of Apache

by Shane Greenstein and Frank Nagle

Abstract

Researchers have long hypothesized that research outputs from government, university, and private company R&D contribute to economic growth, but these contributions may be difficult to measure when they take a non-pecuniary form. The growth of networking devices and the Internet in the 1990s and 2000s magnified these challenges, as illustrated by the deployment of the descendent of the NCSA HTTPd server, otherwise known as Apache. This study asks whether this experience could produce measurement issues in standard productivity analysis, specifically, omission and attribution issues, and, if so, whether the magnitude is large enough to matter. The study develops and analyzes a novel data set consisting of a 1% sample of all outward-facing web servers used in the United States. We find that use of Apache potentially accounts for a mismeasurement of somewhere between $2 billion and $12 billion, which equates to between 1.3% and 8.7% of the stock of prepackaged software in private fixed investment in the United States and a very high rate of return to the original federal investment in the Internet. We argue that these findings point to a large potential undercounting of the rate of return from IT spillovers from the invention of the Internet. The findings also suggest a large potential undercounting of "digital dark matter" in general.

Keywords: open source; Apache; Economic measurement; Digital economics; Measurement and Metrics; Open Source Distribution; Internet; Information Technology; Software; Economic Growth; Research and Development; Web Services Industry; Information Technology Industry; United States;

Citation:

Greenstein, Shane, and Frank Nagle. "Digital Dark Matter and the Economic Contribution of Apache." Research Policy 43, no. 4 (May 2014): 623–631. (Lead Article.)