NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Digital Dark Matter and the Economic Contribution of Apache

Shane Greenstein, Frank Nagle

NBER Working Paper No. 19507
Issued in October 2013
NBER Program(s):   PR

Researchers have long hypothesized that spillovers 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 between1.3 percent and 8.7 percent of the stock of prepackaged software in private fixed investment in the United States. We argue that these findings point to a large potential undercounting of the rate or return from IT spillovers from the invention of the Internet, and to a large potential undercounting of “digital dark matter” in general.

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An online appendix is available for this publication.

This paper was revised on December 12, 2013

Acknowledgments

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Published: Greenstein, Shane & Nagle, Frank, 2014. "Digital dark matter and the economic contribution of Apache," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 43(4), pages 623-631.

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