Marshall Van Alstyne

information economics

Professor Van Alstyne received a BA from Yale, and MS & PhD degrees from MIT. He is an Associate Professor at Boston University and a Visiting Professor at MIT.


His work concerns information economics. In designing information goods, this research concerns competitive strategy and network effects. In control over information, it concerns who has access to what information, when, and at what price. Work also balances open source principles against those that generate profits and stimulate innovation.

Professor Van Alstyne was among the first to document productivity effects of IT and communications at the individual desktop level. His work has received an NSF Career Award, two best paper awards, and has appeared in Science, Management Science, Harvard Business Review, and the popular press.


Economics of Free Software & Platform Innovation -- This research explores socially optimal licensing of information goods. It seeks to promote (a) adoption of and (b) complementary investment in an information platform by 3rd parties. Balancing openness and economic incentives, it explores mechanism design as a means of changing the rate of innovation on a platform at the same time it encourages end users to adopt it.

 » Flexible copyrights website

 » Designing the socially optimal free software license

 » Business commons discussion group (@ Creative Commons)

Network Effects & Information Product Design -- Treating information industries as producers of data, software, and content, the goals of this research are to (a) design packaging strategies to price information (b) create strategic barriers to entry for those who sell information goods (c) understand when free information can raise profits and (d) look for opportunities to create high margin revenue opportunities on low marginal cost goods. Research in this area helped to launch the study of "two-sided markets" or "two-sided networks."

 » How to make money on free information

 » Two-sided markets

Information Economics & Antispam Technologies -- This research takes an economic rather than technological or legal approach to solving the spam problem. Our strongest claim is that in certain limited cases, it is possible to design communication mechanisms that leave consumers better off than even a hypothetical "perfect filter." The idea is to blend important ideas for solving pollution problems, based on the Coase Theorem, with signaling and screening. The result creates a market instead of shutting it down.

 » Understanding spam (popular)
    Curing Spam with Attention Rights

 » Thwarting spam with information economics

 » Wikipedia: Attention Markets

 » An economic response to unsolicited communication - published paper

Information Flow & White Collar Productivity -- This multi-year empirical research was launched by NSF Career Award 9876233 and funding by Intel Corporation then picked up by BT and Cisco. It asks how information flows, access to technology, and social networks affect individual level output. Questions consider (a) how individual email behaviors make people more or less productive (b) how position in a social network affects output and (c) how the content of their communications improves their output or distracts them. This analysis uses a combination of direct observation of email, accounting measures of project work, interviews, and surveys of individual perceptions.

 » Why information should affect productivity - survey

 » Evidence that social networks affect productivity

 » Tools for capturing email social networks

Selected Publications

Listed below are publications by Marshall Van Alstyne. Please follow link title to read each publication in full. You can also view all his publications here.

An Emperical Analysis of Strategies and Efficiences in Social Networks
Provides evidence that both communications structure and flow predict individual white collar productivity
Nathaniel Buckley and Marshall W. Van Alstyne
February 2006

To Standardize Enterprise Data or Not? An Economic Analysis of Flexibility versus Control
Shows when the need for data flexibility dominates the benefits of centralized control
Chander K. Velu, Stuart Madnick and Marshall W. Van Alstyne
November 2005

Innovation through Optimal Licensing in Free Markets and Free Software
Analyzes the socially optimal software license in terms of user benefit and long term innovation
Geoffrey Parker and Marshall W. Van Alstyne
September 2005

Global Village or CyberBalkans: Modeling and Measuring the Integration of Electronic Communities
Shows how increased social reach technologies, like the Internet, can balkanize or unite society
Nathaniel Buckley, Marshall W. Van Alstyne and Erik Brynjolfsson
December 27, 2004

Information Asymmetry and Thwarting Spam
Proposes and proves that a certain communications mechanism can sometimes dominate a perfect spam filter
Thede C Loder, Marshall W. Van Alstyne and Rick Walsh
January 14, 2004




 Associate Professor @ Boston Univeristy
 Boston University - Department of Management Information Systems
 595 Commonwealth Avenue
 Boston, MA 02215
 United States
 617-358-3571 (Phone)

 Research Associate @ MIT
 MIT - Center for E-Business
 77 Massachusetts Avenue
 50 Memorial Drive
 Cambridge, MA 02139-4307
 United States
 617-253-0768 (Phone)