CoRR, June, 2013. Paper Local abstract bibtex
Are there qualitative and quantitative traits of system design that contribute to the ability of people to further innovate? We propose that extrinsic adaptability, the ability given to secondary parties to change a system to match new requirements not envisioned by the primary provider, is such a trait. "Extrinsic adaptation" encompasses the popular concepts of "workaround", "fast prototype extension" or "hack", and extrinsic adaptability is thus a measure of how friendly a system is to tinkering by curious minds. In this report, we give "hackability" or "hacker-friendliness" scientific credentials by formulating and studying a generalization of the concept. During this exercise, we find that system changes by secondary parties fall on a subjective gradient of acceptability, with extrinsic adaptations on one side which confidently preserve existing system features, and invasive modifications on the other side which are perceived to be disruptive to existing system features. Where a change is positioned on this gradient is dependent on how an external observer perceives component boundaries within the changed system. We also find that the existence of objective cost functions can alleviate but not fully eliminate this subjectiveness. The study also enables us to formulate an ethical imperative for system designers to promote extrinsic adaptability.