The Competing Values of Hackers discussion

Aalborg Universitet
The Competing Values of Hackers
Mller, Sune Dueholm; Ulrich, Frank
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Proceedings of the 48th Annual Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences (HICSS 48)
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Citation for published version (APA):
Mller, S. D., & Ulrich, F. (2015). The Competing Values of Hackers: The Culture Profile that Spawned the
Computer Revolution. In Proceedings of the 48th Annual Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences
(HICSS 48). (pp. 3434-3443). IEEE. (Annual Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences.
Proceedings). 10.1109/HICSS.2015.413
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The Competing Values of Hackers: The Culture Profile that Spawned the
Computer Revolution
Sune Dueholm Mller
Aarhus University
[email protected]
Frank Ulrich
Aalborg University
[email protected]
In this paper we describe the hacker culture by
analyzing 25 years of communication on one of the
oldest and most renowned hacker websites. For this
purpose, we utilize a previously documented text
analysis technique [14] which provides an efficient and
effective method of producing a quick overview of
values underlying any written text. The technique
allows for the creation of culture profiles of texts based
on the competing values framework [2]. The paper
contributes to understanding an important but
overlooked hotbed of creativitythe hacker
community. It provides examples of how hackersby
playing with existing technologieshelp push
technological progress. Furthermore, the paper
demonstrates the usefulness of semi-automated text
analyses for the purpose of understanding the values
and assumptions that are expressed in documents. We
highlight the value of the technique in analyzing large
volumes of empirical data and assessing cultures of
communities, organizations, or other units of analysis.
1. Introduction
Creativity and business renewal are the holy grails
of growth and competitiveness in todays society. It is
argued that hypercompetition forces companies to
continuously reinvent themselves and explore new
opportunities [6]. Each industry has unique
characteristicssome are more stable while others
face rapidly shifting market trends and changing
customer demands, necessitating that companies adapt
and stay abreast of new technologies and opportunities.
Among the many sources of inspiration for creativity is
the hacker culture. Hackers are adept at taking existing
technologies and applying them through playfulness in
novel and unintended ways [7,20,25].
The hacker culture is overlooked as a source of
inspiration in part due to the prejudiced and simplistic
picture of hackers painted by mass media [4].
However, according to Levy (1984), hackers sowed the
seeds of the computer revolution that spawned the
Information Society before corporate interests took
control of technological development. Their many
accomplishments include developing the personal
computer, founding the computer game industry, and
establishing the free/libre/open-source software
(FLOSS) movement [12,21]. Hackers are more than
villains and thieves in the digital age, and this paper
seeks to set the story straight and contribute to state-ofthe-art knowledge of the hacker culture as a source of
creativity and novel ideas by addressing the following
research question: What is the culture profile of the
hacker community?
To answer this research question, we analyze 25
years of hacker communication from Cult of the Dead
Cow ( of the
oldest and most renowned hacker websites. By doing
so, we focus on the security cracker community which
is a prominent hacker scene (see below). For this
purpose, we utilize the text analysis technique
documented by Mller and Nielsen (2013). The
technique allows for the analysis of values underlying
any written text and the creation of a culture profile
based on the competing values framework [2]. For a
definition of culture and a description of the
framework, see the research approach section.
The paper is structured as follows. First, we
account for state-of-the-art knowledge about hacker
culture. Second, we describe our research approach,
including the analytical framework and text analysis
technique used. Third, we present our findings,
combining quantitative cultural profiling with
qualitative content analysis of hacker communication.
Fourth, we discuss the results in relation to the existing
literature, stressing the contribution to hacker research
and the value of the technique for cultural analyses.
2. Theoretical background
The hacker culture has attracted the attention of
mass media and scholars alike due to the actions of
hacker groups like LulzSec and Anonymous, but it is
still shrouded in mystery and secrecy. The hacker
2015 48th Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences
1530-1605/15 $31.00 2015 IEEE
DOI 10.1109/HICSS.2015.413
culture is divided into different so-called scenes.
These scenes are mainly male dominated [11], differ in
terms of structure and rules, but share the same cultural
mindset [24,25]. The hacker movement originated
from MIT in the 1960s and focused on coding [12].
They are still around in the Free Software Movement,
where Richard Stallman is known as the last old school
hacker [21]. The new school hackerssecurity
crackersare known from movies like Hackers (1995)
and Takedown (2000). This scene focuses on breaking
into computer systems [11] and writing viruses [10].
Warez and P2P are two opposing scenes centered
around cracking and distributing software and digital
media [5,9]. The Demo scene is into computer art [1].
Finally, there is a new wave of mainstream hackers
who have adopted the hacker mindset in hacking
everything from LEGO Mindstorms to IKEA furniture
[18]. Within the hacker culture, there are also
hacktivists [22, 28]. They do not constitute a scene per
se, but are groups or individuals of politically
motivated new school hackers who resort to cyber
attacks to further their goals.
As shown by previous research, creative play with
technologies are integral parts of the hacker culture,
shaping perceptions and actions of its members
[4,7,12,17,19,20,25,26]. Best known is John Draper
whobesides creating the first Apple word
processorhacked the American telephone system,
using a toy from a Capn Crunch cereal box to emit the
2600 hertz tone used by the AT&T lines [12]. As our
analysis shows, the hacker culture is, however, more
than just breaking and entering such information
Like other cultures, hackers abide by certain norms
andto some extentrules [11]. Flowers (2008)
describes hackers as outlaw innovators who
circumvent manufacturers intended product use
(including software) by jailbreaking copy protection
schemes and changing it through homebrew add-ons.
Examples include reprogramming the Sony Aibo toy
robotic dog, improving its functionality, and hacking
the Sony PSP to use it for purposes of, e.g., internet
browsing and watching TV [7]. These add-ons or
illegal improvements are used by like-minded people
who gather around and adopt these technologies [7]. In
a follow-up study of these outlaw innovators, hackers
were intrinsically motivated by the challenge and fun
of tinkering with and improving existing technologies
The common perception of hackers as an outlaw
culture is, however, too narrow. In Warks (2004)
seminal work on the nature of hacking, he describes
hackers as the antithesis of an established society. In
this words, to hack is to differ [25]. This anti-social
behavior and thinking is nowhere more apparent than
in The Mentors (1986) The Conscience of a Hacker,
perhaps better known as The Hacker Manifesto:
We explore… and you call us criminals. We seek after
knowledge… and you call us criminals. We exist
without skin color, without nationality, without
religious bias…, and you call us criminals. You build
atomic bombs, you wage wars, you murder, cheat, and
lie to us and try to make us believe it’s for our own
good, yet we’re the criminals. Yes, I am a criminal. My
crime is that of curiosity. My crime is that of judging
people by what they say and think, not what they look
like. My crime is that of outsmarting you, something
that you will never forgive me for [23].
Inspired by The Mentor and others, Wark (2004)
argues that hackers are more than loosely coupled
groups of cyber renegades. They constitute a social
class and an indispensable part of the fabric of society
in that they create and recreate technologies that other
social groups adopt and exploit, contributing to
progress, and societal development [25]. Graham
(2008) supports this view and compares hacking to the
artistic expressions of painters and other members of
the creative class [8]. Levy (1984) emphasizes the
societal value of hacking by stating that in a perfect
hacker world, anyone pissed off enough to open up a
control box near a traffic light and take it apart to make
it work better should be perfectly welcome to make the
attempt [12]. He argues that rules preventing people
from accessing new information and improving the
world around them stifle creativity and should be
ignored. Consequently, hackers are more than
cybercriminals and innovation outlaws; they constitute
a culture of rebelliousness. It is a culture fostering
ingenuity, creativity, and technological development,
contributing to growth and prosperity [12].
Quality is equally central to the hacker culture and
deeply ingrained in the hacker mindset [24]. Turkle
(1984) describes this aspect of the hacker culture as
mastery, striving to masterto master perfectly
their medium [24]. As a consequence, the culture is a
meritocracy rewarding members based on the quality
of their skills and achievements [3,10,19]. In
investigating software piracy (the Warez scene), Craig
(2005) describes in detail hackers obsession with
quality; different scene groups competing fiercely
against each other to be first to market with high
quality software cracks. He describes the elaborate
supply chain of the Warez scene, enabling them to
bring new digital products to market within minutes
and strict quality standards that ensures the prompt
removal (nuke) of any release with even minor flaws
3. Research approach
In this paper, we utilize a previously documented
text analysis technique [14] which provides an efficient
and effective method of producing a quick overview of
the values underlying any written text, e.g.
communication on websites, in blogs, in online forums,
etc. The technique is based on the competing values
framework. In the following, we describe the
competing values framework and the text analysis
technique in turn.
Several definitions and theories of organizational
culture exist. Prominently, Schein, defines
organizational culture as a pattern of shared basic
assumptions that was learned by a group as it solved its
problems of external adaptation and internal
integration, that has worked well enough to be
considered valid and, therefore, to be taught to new
members as the correct way to perceive, think, and feel
in relation to those problems [33: 17]. While
subscribing to Scheins definition, we also
acknowledge that organizational culture is embedded
in artifacts, for example written texts [16,34,35]. For
the purpose of analyzing and understanding the
organizational culture underlying such texts, we have
chosen the competing values framework in line with
[14-16]. In their seminal book, Cameron and Quinn
(2006) describe four culture archetypes grounded in
competing basic assumptions, orientations, and core
values. The four culture types are Clan, Adhocracy,
Market, and Hierarchy. They are theoretical constructs,
and all real-world cultures are unique and contain
mixtures of these archetypes. The archetypes are
illustrated in Figure 1 and described in Table 1. The
competing values framework has been used in previous
studies (see for example [13,14,16]), demonstrating its
The competing values framework outlines a twodimensional space in which cultures position
themselves. On the one hand, cultures differ in terms of
internal versus external focus, i.e. the extent to which
they are inward- or outward-looking. Cultures are
either focused on integration and unity (internal focus)
or differentiation and rivalry (external focus). In other
words, some are oriented toward internal affairs and
others toward the external environment. On the other
hand, cultures also differ in terms of their emphasis on
either flexibility, discretion, and dynamism or stability,
order, and control. The two dimensions are shown on
the x- and y-axes respectively in Figure 1.
Internal focus
Flexibility & discretion
External focus
The Clan
Stability & control
Figure 1. Competing Values Framework (adapted
from [2]).
As seen in Table 1, the four culture types are very
distinct. The Clan culture is like a family with shared
values and goals and commitment to one another.
Think of a small family-owned business. The
Adhocracy culture is entrepreneurial and innovative,
valuing curiosity and experimentation. A startup
company is a stereotypical example. The Market
culture is results-oriented, competitive, and focused on
goal achievement. The consulting industry is a prime
example. The Hierarchy culture is very formal,
governed by rules and structure. The military or public
bureaucracies fit this description.
Table 1. Four culture archetypes (adapted from [2]).
together by
and loyalty.
on human
development and
participation, and
Leaders are
Dynamic and
Emphasis on
being on the

creativity and
creating longterm growth
by acquiring
products and
Leaders are
perceived as
a smoothrunning
and low cost
Leaders are
perceived as
focused on
goals and
ness, and
growth are
key to
is important,
everybody is
and teams
traits like
and risk
takers, and
have the
freedom to
Job security
Leaders are
perceived as
tough and
Cameron and Quinn (2006) offer a survey based
assessment instrument for the purpose of establishing
culture profiles based on the competing values
framework. It assesses the relative importance of
cultural aspects associated with each of the four
archetypes in the culture under investigation. It might,
for example, be dominated by Hierarchy (40%),
supported by Market (30%), but only marginally
influenced by Clan and Adhocracy (15% each). The
percentages should be viewed as indicators of
tendenciesnot factswhich is why the resulting
profiles require interpretation [2].
As a supplement, Mller and Nielsen (2013) have
developed a technique which provides an efficient and
effective method of establishing similar culture profiles
based on text analyses. Any text is a cultural artifact
embodying certain values and assumptions, and the
analysis technique assesses the relative importance of
these in the text. The text analysis technique searches
for keywords tied to each of the archetypeseach of
which is described in detail in [2]and establishes a
culture profile based on the result. The details of the
technique is described in Mller and Nielsen (2013),
and it has been validated against previous research [16]
and used for empirical analyses [15]. The technique is
available as a web service:
For the purpose of conducting this study, we analyzed
communication on Cult of the Dead Cowone of
the oldest and most renowned hacker websites. Thus,
this research is a case study of one prominent hacker
community. All communication that took place from
1984-2009 in the ezine bearing the same name was
accessed and downloaded, spanning more than 2000
pages of text, just short of 1 million words. First, we
analyzed the text using the aforementioned technique.
The resulting culture profile is illustrated in Figure 3.
Second, we interpreted the result drawing on existing
theory. Third, we performed in-depth content analysis
in support of the interpretation. The content analysis
was guided by the word frequency distribution that the
technique calculates (part of the software algorithm).
The frequency of each keyword (associated with the
archetypes) in the text is counted as part of the output
from using the technique. From the resulting list (see
Table 2), we identified the keywords most frequently
used to describe the hacker culture, focusing on the
dominating (Adhocracy) and supporting (Market)
culture types. Subsequently, we searched through the
text, reading entries in which the keywords appeared.
To ensure theoretical saturation, all entries containing
the keywords were read and analyzed. Furthermore, the
entries were categorized according to subject and a
short summary was written for each entry, synthesizing
the content. This in-depth analysis allowed us to
identify patterns in the communication and the values
being espoused. In the following, we quote selected
hackers by referring to their alias, for example The
Nightstalker. We also refer to ezine entries by citing
the titles, e.g. How to Break the Law.
Table 2. Word frequency count.

Adaptation 25 Aggression 30
Anticipation 27 Competitiveness 13
Change 398 Contract 32
Creativity 29 Control 316
Cutting edge 2 Customer 83
Dynamism 14 Environment 40
Experimental 59 External 7
Flexibility 5 Goal 38
Imagination 147 Penetration 20
Innovation 15 Performance 88
New 1023 Productivity 7
Pioneering 8 Profit 25
Rapid 33
Resultsorientation 144
Research 65 Return 251
Risk taking 11 Supplier 5
Specialization 5 Target 46
Temporary 16
Uncertainty 13
Vision 84
Compared to an open thematic analysis, the
competing values framework and the text analysis
technique allows for more focused content analyses,
providing an efficient and effective method for
investigating the cultural values underpinning the Cult
of the Dead Cow ezine. This qualitative text analysis
gave us an in-depth understanding of the hacker
culture. A word of caution: Although we in this paper
talk about the hacker culture, hackers are a motley
crew and not a homogeneous group. There are many
scenes (see Theoretical background) and in this
paper we limit our analysis to security crackersthe
target audience of Cult of the Dead Cow.
3.1. About cDc
cDcalso know as Cult of the Dead Cow or cDc
Communicationsis a hacker organization established
in 1984. They are by their own account the longestrunning group in the computer underground
Figure 2. The Cult of the Dead Cow ezine.
cDc maintains an electronic publicationan
underground ezine also called “Cult of the Dead Cow”.
The target audience is security crackers. The ezine
contains everything from thrash metal lyrics and
descriptions of UFO sightings to instructions in how to
conduct mail fraud and pyramid schemes (The B!G
Envelope Stuffing Scam). In other words, it is a
hodgepodge. There are examples of diary entries,
displaying teenage angst (e.g. Smothered Hope);
drugs are being discussed (Sex, Ecstasy, and the
Psychedelic Drugs); government sanctioned seizure of
private property and the curbing of civil rights are
being criticized ([The law: Guilt doesn’t matter]);
and there are numerous guides, for example a guide to
hacking the criminal justice system (How to Break the
Law). And most obviously, there are countless
examples of hackssome of which have nothing to
do with ITincluding building a rocket car (“Rocket
Car”) and making cement-filled teddy bears (“Cement
Teddy Bears”).
4. Findings
Figure 3 shows the resulting culture profile of the
hacker culture from having analyzed the
communication in The Cult of the Dead Cow.
Visually, it is a diamond shaped figure pointing toward
Adhocracy. Looking at the numbers, the hacker culture
is dominated by the Adhocracy (35%) culture type,
supported by elements of the Market (26%) culture
type, but only marginally influenced by the Clan (21%)
and Hierarchy (18%) culture types. Comparing
dimensions, the Adhocracy and Clan culture types
emphasizing flexibility, discretion, and dynamism (as
opposed to stability, order, and control)are more
dominant as a group (than Hierarchy and Market).
Especially the Adhocracy culture type with its
emphasis on creativity, innovation, experimentation,
and flexibility is prominent. Mu ller and Nielsen
(2013) have described the Adhocracy culture type as
an innovative organization pioneering new products;
it emphasizes adaptation and flexibility in
environments characterized by uncertainty and
ambiguity [14]. Conversely, the Adhocracy and
Market culture typesespousing an external
orientation, differentiation, and rivalry (rather than
internal orientation, integration, and unity)dominate
as a group. In addition to Adhocracy, the strong
influence of the Market culture type helps us
understand the hacker community as a results-oriented
culture, concerned with achieving ambitious goals and
winning through competitive actions. From a birds
eye perspective, it can be concluded that the hacker
culture is oriented toward the external environment
rather than internal affairs. Competitiveness and
productivity are achieved through a strong emphasis on
external positioning vis–vis other hacker groups. It is
also a culture that values discretion and flexibility in
achieving the stretch goals of the individual hacker
groups, allowing members to be creative and pursue
innovative ideas trough experimentation rather than
requiring them to follow pre-established procedures.
This claim is substantiated by analyzing the content
of the communication in the ezine which also
contributes to a more detailed and nuanced picture of
the hacker culture.
Figure 3: Profile of hacker culture.
Despite the tilt toward flexibility and discretion (see
Figure 3), the culture is also characterized by elements
of stability and control. Although members are
accorded flexibility and discretion in pursuing their
own ideas, there are strong norms governing the hacker
culture, for example free access to information and
high quality standards, ensuring the reliability and
proof of cracks. These standards include instructions
and guides on, e.g., phone phreaking (“Better Homes
and Blue Boxing”). However, hackers are creative
people and do not believe in slavishly following
standardized quality procedures in the pursuit of
progress: quality is exemplified by the arts
performed by men of antiquity. The contrast between
the work performed by an artisan of antiquity, who
produced unique goods that were a natural outpouring
of his potential, is a stark contrast to the work
performed in modern day offices and factories, which
consists of dreary quantitative tasks that reduce
everything to numbers and figures there is no room
for anything but efficiency in the Corporation
(Dark Sorcerer). In other words, quality is more than
just striving for efficiency; it lies in the uniqueness of
the contribution which requires thinking outside the
Furthermore, the hacker culture is a meritocracy
where hackers power, prestige, and influence follow
abilities and achievements rather than formal positions
in a hierarchy [3,10,19]. This is illustrated by one
hackers confessions: “Once a week they give me a
s00per sekrut mission which usually involves the
acquisition of hi-tech equipment to further their
wonderful plans they have for the future of us all. They
can’t tell me these plans, you understand, as I am but a
cDc/WorkerDrone in the K-K0W F0RCE! and do not
need such information. When I succeed in returning
back to my base with my job completed they lavish me
with praise … I will learn to be elite” (The Grim
Eggbert). Besides being a meritocracy, the hacker
culture is a counterculture formed in protest against
today’s media-saturated consumer culture, a culture
which seems ever able to absorb outrage and atrocity,
as long as there’s a profit to be made (The Pusher).
There are examples of entries through which hackers
create an identity by joking about other boy cultures,
specifically skaters. They also define themselves
through pranksting, i.e. by making fun of others or
posting jokes. Illustrative examples are offered by
someone uploading detailed instructions on how to
Steal a Dumpster and How To Lock Someone In
Their Own House (The Dark Static).
Figure 4. Expression of hacker culture.
Figure 4 shows in a humorous way the rebellious and
creative nature of the hacker culture. It is easily
interpreted as a fuck the establishment statement
with playful undertones, cf., S H I TSuburban
Highly Intelligent Teenagers (Panama Joe). By
voicing support for a counterculture, for example in
opposition to todays celebrity culture, the hackers also
implicitly express another important feature of the
hacker culture, rewarding people based on merits: The
obsession with so-called celebrities that is rampant in
our society today seems to me one of the most obvious
manifestations of evil around. Celebrities in most cases
are manufactured idols who contribute nothing of
significance to society. They are parasites-in short,
people who become known for their ability to
generate publicity rather than people who make real
contributions to the welfare of others (Paul
Connelly). This and similar entries (Celebrity
Culture) criticize celebrities for not contributing
anything of real value which stands in stark contrast to
the meritocracy of the hacker culture.
Similarly, several entries verbally attack the
powers that be, e.g. the Unscrupulous, greedy,
money and power seekers (Psychotic Opposition).
Some hackers make it a point to expose the deception
and hypocrisy of politicians, for example by analyzing
the rhetoric behind the Iraq War. In addition, a number
of entries express outrage at social injustice, for
example the lack of government help and support for
war veterans, leading one hacker to write in frustration
(The Nightstalker). These and other hackers see
themselves as watchdogs, exposing secrets, injustices,
and lies. These hackers are mainly kids who’ve grown
up with a joystick in their hands, who have rewired
their brains to take in huge amounts of information at
one shot, filter the crap and distractions, and make The
Right Decision instantly. So there’s one group who’s
interested in freedom and being left alone by Big
Brother members of the cyber-community who
actively work to promote freedom on the Net and
restrict the overarching influence of the inbred
Kallikaks and Jukes’ in the House and Senate (The
Nightstalker). A select few, are involved in
hacktivism (i.e. hacking for political purposes), for
example fighting for Chinese citizens right to access
censored content online, regarding access to
information as a basic human right and using
technology to improve human rights across electronic
media (Oxblood Ruffin).
Hackers are described as curious and inquisitive
who want to learn, or want to satisfy their curiosity,
that’s why they get into the system. To search around
inside of a place they’ve never been, to explore all the
little nooks and crannies of a world so unlike the
boring cesspool we live in (Dissident). Some are
drawn by the allure of being able to access any
information anytime and anywhere. In the words of
one hacker: The experience of being able to access so
much human culture for free had a great impact on me.
This process ignored the rules and regimentation of
private property, and I saw it all first hand I have
always been addicted to this digital world. To me, it’s
not cold and dead here; it’s colourful and filled with
content and communication and free stuff. It’s my
interface to the endless human cultural production
(elliot.pank). The fact the information is sometimes
restricted, requiring break-ins through hacking only,
makes it challenging, exciting, and appealing to some;
“make it sexy, sweaty, and dangerous. That’s what
would get hackers interested” (“Oxblood Ruffin”).
As mentioned, it can be inferred from Figure 3 (due
to the prominence of the Market culture type) that the
hacker culture is very competitive. The competitive
nature is displayed openly at hackathons, for example
the Linux Deathmatch: Here’s the basic idea: keep
your Linux system responsive to network requests, and
hack your opponents’ systems to death. Which makes
it, essentially, a demolition derby (Reid Fleming).
Their preoccupation with excelling at such events,
shows that hackers are very aware of their own
performance vis–vis other hackers. At the individual
level, competition is also expressed in the battle
between hackers producing ASCII art (text based
visual art). The following quote is one hacker artist
dissing another: Lick my self-cleaning oven, you Hee
Haw-watching-in-your-underwear, , twelth-generation-West
Virginian-product-of incestuous-bestiality-fiends nonperson. I’m going to defrost my freezer with your
WARM BLOOD! (S. Ratte’). The same competition
is evident at the group level. There are plenty of
examples of groups waging war against each other, for
example: We considered leaching well-known files
and distributing them under the BSept name, writing
ridiculous files and doing the same thing, and generally
undermining the group’s prestige (Franken Gibe).
5. Discussion
In this paper we aim to describe the culture profile
of the security cracker (hacker) community. On the one
hand, our analysis confirms previous studies of the
hacker culture showing that hackers are curious,
playful, and rebellious [4,7,12,17,19,20,25,26,27]. On
the other hand, it shows that the hacker culture is not
one-dimensional but draws on values associated with
all four culture archetypes (see Table 3).
Table 3: Competing values of the hacker culture.
Clan values Adhocracy
The hacker
culture is
built on clan
are carried
out in tightly
knit groups,
sharing a
counterculture identity.
Each member
his part and is
in turn
supported by
his cohorts.
Decisions are
about what
serves the
interests best.
The hacker
culture is
and playful
(experimental) by
who take
great risks
the status
quo, conventional
dogmas by
The hacker
culture is a
but is governed
by norms and
standards. It is
hierarchical in
the sense that
hackers gain
respect and
influence by
coming up with
novel ideas and
by seeing them
through all the
way to
implementation. The innovations are
evaluated by
other hackers,
releases that do
not stand the
test of quality.
culture is
with each
to be first
to market
with a
competition they
From existing studies, Adhocracy is expected to
dominate the culture with its focus on creativity,
innovation, and risk-taking [4,7,8,19,20,28,32]. It does.
Though this result (that the hacker culture is heavy on
Adhocracy) may not be surprising, the competing
values framework and our analysis offer both a
vocabulary and the empirical evidence to describe the
cultural richness of the hacker community. In fact, our
analysis shows that hackers thrive in the face of danger
and opposition, challenging conventional thinking.
Importantly, there are supporting elements of Market
culture as well. Competition is central to the culture.
Through competition, hackers prove their worth,
gaining respect, and reputation [5]. Both Adhocracy
and Market have an external focus and from our
analysis of the cDc communication it is evident that the
hacker culture defines itself against the external
environment (cf. the external focus in Figure 2), i.e.,
against the established rules and norms of society. This
external focus is nevertheless surprising and
paradoxical considering the secrecy of the hacker
community. This outward-oriented behavior is linked
to the competitive nature of the hacker culture, striving
for perfection (mastery) [24], which requires
benchmarking and collaboration with others. This
finding extends our existing knowledge by showing
that hackers not only define themselves in opposition
to the surrounding society but also against other
hackers, which in turn suggests that hackers do not
constitute a homogeneous group.
Despite its marginal influence, the Clan culture is
evident in the sharing of a common identity. By talking
about shared interests in deviant art (e.g. music) etc.,
verbally attacking the powers that be, criticizing
todays celebrity culture, and dissing other boy
cultures, the hacker culture establishes itself as a
counterculture. This counterculture can be traced back
to the early days of the computer revolution in the
1960s [29]. Within this counterculture, hackers work
together in tightly knit groups toward common goals
guided by elite hackers who have won the respect of
others through their actions [11]. Likewise, hierarchy
manifests itself not only in the culture being a
meritocracy where respect and influence follow skills
and accomplishments, but also in the fact that high
quality standards guide their work and determine
whether a product (release) is acceptable or not [5].
In summary, our analysis adds to the existing body
of knowledge of the hacker culture by painting a more
nuanced picture, describing it as a multidimensional
culture. Researchers can use our study and our
methodological approach as a source of inspiration
when studying community cultures and
countercultures. Policy makers may draw on our
findings when discussing new copyright laws that
leave room for further developing other peoples ideas
and intellectual property [30]. Companies faced with
hypercompetition, forcing them to reinvent themselves
and explore new opportunities, can find inspiration in
the hacker culture and learn from it. Thus, practitioners
are urged to see the benefits in opening up to the
organizational environment and embracing creative
input by allowing ideas and products to be hacked.
This challenges the current behavior of companies
hiding between walled gardens of security and secrecy.
This recommendation is in line with extant literature
which provides several examples of companies
collaborating with hackers, playing with technology,
breaking the rules (i.e. breaking away from
conventional thinking), striving for perfection, and
making things better. For example, Koerner (2006)
explains how LEGO collaborated with hackers and
embraced the hacker mindset when creating LEGO
Mindstorms while Flowers (2008) explores the impact
of outlaw hacker communities on technology
development [7]. This topic is addressed separately in a
forthcoming publication.
To our knowledge, this is the first study to use the
competing values framework for the analysis of a
community culture. This study shows the usefulness of
the text analysis technique used in assessing cultures
based on what members communicate to each other.
We demonstrate its value in understanding the culture
of a hacker communitycDcbased on what
members write in the ezine Cult of the Dead Cow.
Practitioners and researchers alike may use the
technique as an efficient and effective method for
cultural analysis, focusing on written communication.
We demonstrate the value in combining semiautomated text analyses with qualitative content
analysis for the purpose of understanding the values
and assumptions that are expressed in documents.
Researchers and practitioners are advised to follow our
example by (1) using the technique to establish an
overall profile of the culture under investigation and
(2) acquiring an in-depth understanding of the culture
by reading through selected text passages espousing
the underlying values and assumptions, guided by the
word frequency distribution calculated by the
technique. By way of example, we have also shown
that the technique is helpful in understanding the
creativity and innovativeness of organizations,
communities, or other units of cultural analysis by
zooming in on elements of Adhocracy and other
cultural elements. Our study reveals that a creative and
innovative culture is not only about fostering elements
of Adhocracy, but may also draw on other culture
A word of caution: The hacker culture concept is
highly elusive. As highlighted in the theoretical
background section, there are several hacker scenes,
and the communication in the Cult of the Dead Cow
is only representative of the security cracker (hacker)
community. It is assumed that the people voicing their
opinions on the cDc website and the people doing the
hacking are the same or are at least culturally aligned.
Additionally, there are a couple of limitations to this
study worth mentioning. First, the research is
constrained by the limitations of text analyses. An
ethnographic study might yield additional insights.
Second, we have only analyzed the content on one
hacker websitethough a prominent one. In the future,
we plan to expand the study to include other websites.
Third, this study only includes security crackers (target
audience of cDc). In the future, we want to compare
subcultures across scene groups in order to understand
any potential differences. Fourth, although we include
25 years of hacker communication in our analysis, we
do not investigate whether the culture has changed
over time. By doing a thematic analysis in which the
year of publication is taken into account, it might be
possible to discern trends and changes over time, for
example in response to events in the environment. In
the ezine, there are numerous examples of
commentaries on current politics, e.g. wars and
political struggles. We leave, however, this to future
6. Conclusion
In this paper, we have profiled and described the
hacker culture based on the analysis of 25 years of
communication on one of the oldest and most
renowned hacker websites. We have analyzed the
content of an ezine using a text analysis technique
developed by Mller and Nielsen (2013),
supplemented by qualitative content analysis. The
findings reveal that the hacker culture is a creative,
externally focused counterculture. It adds to the
existing body of knowledge by describing the
multidimensional nature of the hacker culture, drawing
on values from different culture archetypes. The paper
also contributes by demonstrating the value of semiautomated quantitative text analysis complemented
with in-depth qualitative content analysis. It confirms
the efficiency and effectiveness of the technique
employed and shows how to interpret the resulting
culture profiles by identifying and reading text
passages associated with the keywords that the
technique uses as part of its software algorithm.
7. References
[1] Borzyskowski, G. The hacker demo scene and its
cultural artefacts. Cybermind Conference 1996, (1996),
[2] Cameron, K. and Quinn, R. Diagnosing and
Changing Organizational Culture. Based on The
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Francisco, 2006.
[3] Coleman, G. Hacker Politics and Publics. Public
Culture 23, 3 (2011), 511516.
[4] Conti, G. Hacking and innovation. Communications
of the ACM 49, 6 (2006), 3336.
[5] Craig, P. Software Piracy Exposed: Secrets from
the Dark Side Revealed. Syngress Publishing,
Rockland, MA, MA, 2005.
[6] DAveni, R. Waking up to the new era of
hypercompetition. The Washington Quarterly 21, 1
(1998), 183195.
[7] Flowers, S. Harnessing the hackers: The emergence
and exploitation of Outlaw Innovation. Research
Policy 37, 2 (2008), 177193.
[8] Graham, P. Hackers & Painters: Big Ideas from the
Computer Age. OReilly Media, Sebastopol, CA, 2004.
[9] Holt, T. and Copes, H. Transferring Subcultural
Knowledge On-Line: Practices and Beliefs of
Persistent Digital Pirates. Deviant Behavior 31, 7
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[10] Holt, T., Strumsky, D., Smirnova, O., and Kilger,
M. Examining the Social Networks of Malware
Writers and Hackers. International Journal of Cyber
Criminology 6, 1 (2012), 891903.
[11] Jordan, T. and Taylor, P. A sociology of hackers.
Sociological Review 46, 4 (1998), 757780.
[12] Levy, S. Hackers: Heroes of the Computer
Revolution. Penguin Books, New York, 1984.
[13] Mller, S., Krmmergaard, P., and Mathiassen, L.
Managing Cultural Variation in Software Process
Improvement: A Comparison of Methods for
Subculture Assessment. IEEE Transactions on
Engineering Management 56, 4 (2009), 584599.
[14] Mller, S. and Nielsen, P. Competing Values in
Software Process Improvement: A Study of Cultural
Profiles. Information Technology & People 26, 2
(2013), 146171.
[15] Mller, S., Ulrich, F., and Nielsen, P. When
Process is Getting in the Way of Creativity and
Innovation. The 47th Annual Hawaii International
Conference on System Sciences, (2014), 221229.
[16] Ngwenyama, O. and Nielsen, P. Competing
Values in Software Process Improvement: An
Assumption Analysis of CMM from an Organizational
Culture Perspective. IEEE Transactions on
Engineering Management 50, 1 (2003), 100112.
[17] Nikitina, S. Hackers as Tricksters of the Digital
Age: Creativity in Hacker Culture. The Journal of
Popular Culture 45, 1 (2012), 133152.
[18] Rosner, D. and Bean, J. Learning from IKEA
Hacking: I’m Not One to Decoupage a Tabletop and
Call It a Day.Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference
on Human Factors in Computing Systems, (2009),
[19] Sarma, M. and Lam, A. Knowledge Creation and
Innovation in the Virtual Community? Exploring
Structure, Values and Identity in Hacker Groups. 35th
DRUID Celebration Conference 2013, (2013), 124.
[20] Schulz, C. and Wagner, S. Outlaw Community
Innovations. International Journal of Innovation
Management 12, 3 (2008), 399418.
[21] Stallman, R. and Gay, J. Free Software, Free
Society: Selected Essays of Richard M. Stallman.
CreateSpace, Paramount, 2009.
[22] Still, B. Hacking for a cause. First Monday 10, 9
[23] The Mentor. The Conscience of a Hacker. 1986.
[24] Turkle, S. The Second Self: Computers and the
Human Spirit. Simon & Schuster, New York, 1984.
[25] Wark, M. A Hacker Manifesto. Harvard
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[29] Markoff, J. What the Dormouse Said: How the
Sixties Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer
Industry. Viking Adult, London, 2005.
[30] Lessig, L. Free Culture: The Nature and Future of
Creativity. Penguin Books, London, 2005.
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Issue 14.02 (February 2006).
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