Dr. Fernando van der Vlist is Assistant Professor of Cultural Data & AI in the Department of Media Studies at the University of Amsterdam (UvA), Faculty of Humanities. He is actively involved in various initiatives, including cofounder of the App Studies Initiative (ASI), the Digital Methods Initiative (DMI), the Public Data Lab, and is affiliated with the UvA’s School for Cultural Analysis (ASCA).
🔍 His research focuses on the study of digital media ecosystems, platforms and apps, data, and artificial intelligence (AI) in culture and society. He has made significant contributions to the field, with his research being published or forthcoming in leading scholarly journals, such as Big Data & Society, Social Media + Society, Internet Policy Review, Internet Histories, and Computational Culture. His research has been funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG), the Dutch Research Council (NWO), and the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), amongst others.
🕓 Prior to his current position, Fernando worked as a postdoctoral Researcher in the focus area ‘Governing the Digital Society’ (GDS) at Utrecht University (UU) and the Collaborative Research Centre 1187 ‘Media of Cooperation’ at the University of Siegen, funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG). He has also taught as a Lecturer in New Media and Digital Culture and Digital Methods at the UvA, UU, and the Utrecht Data School (UDS).
🎓 He obtained his PhD from Utrecht University in 2022. The title of his PhD thesis monograph is ‘The Platform as Ecosystem’ and it was jointly supervised by Prof. José van Dijck at UU and Prof. Carolin Gerlitz at the University of Siegen, Germany. His empirical research extensively examines the intricate governance and power dynamics within digital platforms and ecosystems, providing critical empirical, theoretical, and methodological insights into the complexities of platform governance and influence. In addition to his academic pursuits, Fernando has valuable professional experience as a graphic (information) designer, combining research and design expertise.
🔍 Van der Vlist’s research is centred around the study of digital media ecosystems, platforms and apps, data, and artificial intelligence (AI) in culture and society. His work encompasses the interdisciplinary fields of Internet Studies, Platform Studies, App Studies, Software Studies, and Critical Data Studies. Through the use of innovative methodologies and digital methods, he conducts analyses and visualises the intricate relationships among platforms, apps, users, and society, providing insights into the social, cultural, and political-economic dimensions of digital media. His research contributions delve into various aspects, including the historical evolution of Facebook’s platform, ‘API governance’, the global ‘audience economy’, and the dynamics of governing power within the online platform ecosystem. Additionally, he investigates the global culture and economy of apps and explores the challenges and opportunities related to social media, platforms, and app historiography.
📚 Fernando has (co-)authored and edited over 25 scholarly publications. His work appears in leading scholarly journals within the interdisciplinary field of Media Studies, including Big Data & Society (interdisciplinary social sciences) and Social Media + Society (communication), as well as specialised journals, such as Internet Policy Review (internet regulation), Internet Histories and TMG – Journal for Media History (media history), Surveillance & Society (surveillance studies), and Computational Culture (software studies). 🗓 In addition to his publications, he has actively engaged in more than 80 international academic conferences, workshops, and data ‘sprints’, including the annual Digital Methods Summer and Winter Schools and annual meetings of the Association for Internet Researchers (AoIR) and International Communication Association (ICA). 💲 Moreover, he has contributed to securing research funding, including grants from national research councils like the German Research Foundation (DFG) and the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).
🧩 Fernando has developed various open-access research data sets, software tools, and teaching resources that are widely available and used across educational institutions. He actively participates in expert and policy meetings that focus on online platforms and the digital economy.
🎓📘 In 2022, Fernando defended his PhD thesis, titled ‘The Platform as Ecosystem: Configurations and Dynamics of Governance and Power’, at Utrecht University. His empirical research extensively examines the intricate governance and power dynamics within digital platforms and ecosystems, providing critical insights into their complex governing structures. The study encompasses empirical, theoretical, and methodological aspects, shedding light on the governing power of platforms. His PhD research was conducted under the joint supervision of Prof. José van Dijck at UU and Prof. Carolin Gerlitz at the University of Siegen, Germany.
📧 Fernando is available to (co-)supervise PhD candidates whose research aligns with one or more of his areas of interest.
Van der Vlist is the co-coordinator (alongside Prof. Thomas Poell) of the new Master’s programme Cultural Data & AI (MA Media Studies) and is also engaged in teaching and curriculum development for the English-taught Bachelor’s programmes Media and Information (Media Studies) and Global Arts, Culture and Politics (BA Cultural Studies). Media Studies at the UvA consistently achieves top rankings globally within its field.
🔖 He is lecturer in: https://coursecatalogue.uva.nl/xmlpages/page/2023-2024-en/search-lecturer/lecturer/50881 (UvA Course Catalogue).
🕓 Since 2014, he has taught and coordinated (administered) over 25 Bachelor’s and Master’s-level courses on new media and digital culture, digital research methods and practices, and theories as a Lecturer in New Media and Digital Culture and Digital Methods in the Department of Media Studies at the University of Amsterdam and the Department of Media and Culture Studies and Data School (UDS) at Utrecht University. He also taught a private course for Dutch public management in 2016 at the UDS.
💼 Previously, Van der Vlist held positions as a (postdoctoral) Researcher in the focus area ‘Governing the Digital Society’ at Utrecht University (from 2020–2023) and at the Collaborative Research Centre 1187 ‘Media of Cooperation’ at the University of Siegen (from 2016–2023), funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG). Before these roles, he held various positions at Utrecht University (UU) and the University of Amsterdam (UvA). He was a PhD Candidate under the joint supervision of Prof. José van Dijck at UU and Prof. Carolin Gerlitz at the University of Siegen (from 2019–2022). Fernando also taught as a Lecturer in New Media and Digital Culture and Digital Methods in the Department of Media Studies at the University of Amsterdam (from 2014–2018), as well as in the Department of Media and Culture Studies (from 2022–2023), and at the Utrecht Data School (UDS) in 2016 at UU. Furthermore, he provided consultation on digital methods and online mapping methodologies as Researcher in the ERC-funded research project CONNECTINGEUROPE at UU (2016). Alongside his academic pursuits, Fernando has professional experience as a graphic (information) designer, bringing a valuable blend of expertise to his work.
🎓 Fernando received his PhD from Utrecht University in September 2022. Prior to that, he completed a Research Master’s degree in Media Studies at the University of Amsterdam in 2015. He also holds a professional degree in Graphic Design at the Willem de Kooning Academy (Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences) obtained in 2012. He earned his University Teaching Qualification (UTQ) from the UvA in 2017.
Digital ‘platforms’ owned and operated by powerful Big Tech companies have shaped and impacted social, economic, and political life in significant ways. Yet, platforms remain an ambiguous phenomenon. What exactly are these platforms? How can we identify and understand the features of their power?
The Platform as Ecosystem explains how not merely the platforms themselves but especially their larger ‘ecosystems’ are important for understanding the unique features of platform governance and power. Platform ecosystems have become the dominant technological, organisational, and governance model for digital platforms over the past fifteen years. These ecosystems comprise many different types of users including end-consumers, software developers, marketers and advertisers, and business partners who build software tools, products, and services of their own ‘on top’ of the interfaces provided and controlled by leading platforms. These users each help build and expand platform ecosystems while negotiating governance and control by central platforms.
This dissertation examines different aspects of platform ecosystems to determine how platforms’ material foundations or infrastructures relate to governance and power. It develops several novel empirical and historical approaches for studying the distinct material and relational features of digital platform ecosystems. This reveals how platforms derive considerable power from their ecosystems and provides unique empirical and historical insights into the technological, organisational, and evolutionary features of platform (and mobile app) ecosystems. These approaches and insights are relevant to digital media and platform researchers and help policymakers, regulators, and authorities worldwide dealing with the challenges of governing digital economies and societies.
This PhD thesis offers significant empirical insights into the governance and power dynamics of digital platforms owned by Big Tech companies. The study emphasizes the importance of platform ecosystems in understanding platform governance and power, in addition to the platforms themselves.
This thesis demonstrates the critical role of platform ecosystems in shaping governance and power dynamics. The findings underscore the importance of APIs, technological integrations, and business partnerships in determining the influence of platforms. Moreover, the research highlights the ongoing struggle between platforms and software developers in maintaining control over the app ecosystem. Furthermore, the study reveals how crisis-driven adaptations by major platform gatekeepers can impact the broader app ecosystem. These insights have significant implications for regulatory considerations in the digital landscape. Overall, this research advances the understanding of platform governance and power dynamics and contributes to the existing academic literature on this subject.