Understanding the Development and Diffusion of Mobile Commerce Technologies in China: A Biographical Study with an Actor-Network Theory Perspective

Youwei Wang, Yufei Yuan, Ofir Turel, and Zhiling Tu
International Journal of Electronic Commerce,
Volume 19, Number 4, Summer 2015, pp. 47-76.


Mobile commerce technologies cater to multiple types of users who use them for various purposes in a dynamic fashion over time. Their development and diffusion therefore involves many actors who participate in changing market configurations. In this study we address this complex sociotechnical setting by investigating the “biography” of mobile text messaging, an instance of mobile commerce technologies, in China. Specifically, we apply an actor-network perspective to understand the development and diffusion of text messaging over time and the changing actor configurations. This analysis was based on 1,403 news items pertaining to the Chinese telecommunications market, which were screened from over 40,000 news items produced over sixteen years. The deduced pattern indicates that the diffusion of text messaging, and possibly other mobile commerce technologies, includes four actor network configurations. Mobile commerce platforms begin to operate within a small network of actors, and via a dynamic process of events and interactions, they end up with a complex network of actors, which can include content and service providers, customers, regulators, and businesses that drive mobile commerce technology diffusion and breadth of uses across markets. The suggested pattern provides a “biography of artifacts” regarding mobile technologies at the national level.

Key Words and Phrases: Actor-network theory, mobile commerce platforms, mobile services development and diffusion processes, short messaging services.