Neither Heroes nor Chaos: The Victory of VHS against Betamax

Neither Heroes nor Chaos: The Victory of VHS against Betamax

Diego Ponte (Department of Economics and Management, University of Trento, Trento, Italy) and Pier Franco Camussone (Department of Economics and Management, University of Trento, Trento, Italy)
DOI: 10.4018/jantti.2013010103
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This paper wishes to contribute to the ongoing debate on standardization processes by addressing on the economic and social aspects that shape the creation and diffusion of standards. The aim of the paper is to deal with a clear gap in the literature, as evolution of standards over time has not been fully explored. Indeed, mainstream literature tends to treat creation and diffusion as two distinguished phases. The research relies on an in-depth document analysis of the VHS vs. BETAMAX contest. By drawing upon the Actor-Network Theory, the paper shows that the evolution of a standard is a complex process where creation and diffusion are co-evolving dimensions, which cannot be easily distinguished; second, it shows that the coupling of both economic and social aspects permits a clear understanding of the factors and events that affect the evolution of a standard and the dominance of one standard among competing ones.
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Different Approaches To Standardization

Different definitions of the notion of standard might be found in the literature; from a general point of view, a standard might be defined as a stable set of rules which specify what the adopters of the standard are requested to do (David & Greenstein, 1990; Link, 1983). Current literature divides the standardization process in two main phases: the creation phase and the diffusion phase (Dosi, 2000). The creation phase is the one where alternative sets of rules or technologies are created: the standard might be considered as a work in progress. The diffusion phase is the one where the standard is disseminated and possibly adopted by users. This analytical distinction allows highlighting that standardization is a voluntary process aimed at defining a set of rules which are then adopted by the interested actors.

The topic of standardization crosses both the economic and social research field; the following two sections briefly summarize this extensive body of literature.

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