Marshall Van Alstyne

Marshall W. Van Alstyne

Marshall Van Alstyne in the On Point studio. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Citizenship United States of America
Fields Information Systems
Institutions Boston University
MIT Sloan School of Management
Alma mater Yale
Doctoral students Sinan Aral
Known for Two-sided markets
Platform economics

Marshall W. Van Alstyne (born in 1962) is a professor at Boston University and research associate at the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy.[1] His work focuses on the economics of information. Van Alstyne eared a B.A in computer science from Yale University, and M.S. and Ph.D. in information systems from the MIT Sloan School of Management. From 1997 to 2004 he was an assistant professor at the University of Michigan.[2]


He has made substantial contributions to understanding information markets. With graduate students Loder and Wash, he was the first to prove[3] that applying a signaling and screening mechanism to email spam can, in theory, create more value for consumers than a perfect filter (see also "attention economics"). With professor Geoffrey G Parker, he contributed to the founding literature on "two-sided networks," a refinement of network effects that explains how firms can profitably price information at zero.[4] Subsidized pricing and two-sided network effects can cause markets to concentrate in the hands of a few firms. These properties inform both firms’ strategies and antitrust law.

He is a frequent invited conference keynote speaker, presenter, contributor and author who also holds patents on a means of preserving communications privacy and on preventing spam as follows: Methods and Systems for Enabling Analysis of Communication Content While Preserving Privacy, United States 7,503,070; Method for Managing a Whitelist, United States 7,890,338. His most recent blogs and research can be found on his Platform Economics and Strategy page. He is also the co-curator of the Annual Platform Strategy Summit held every summer at the MIT Media Labs.

Recent work with Sinan Aral has explored the question of which social network structures provide better access to novel information. In social networks, individuals might secure novel information by bridging two networks that are not otherwise linked. Information diversity provided by remote bridge ties, however, typically occurs at lower flow rates than among strong local ties. While information can be redundant in strong local ties, their flow rates can be so high that they provide more useful novelty. Aral and Van Alstyne termed the advantage of more diverse structure relative to the advantage of higher flow "the diversity-bandwidth tradeoff"[5] and identified the factors causing access to favor one or the other.


Van Alstyne received an Excellence in Teaching Award (2015), Ph.D. Student Mentoring Award (2014), International Conference on Information Systems Best paper award (2006 and 1996), Broderick Award for Research Excellence (2006), Intel Young Investigator Award (2003), National Science Foundation Faculty Career Award (1999),[6] Hugh Hampton Young Innovative research at MIT Award (1994), and William L. Stuart Award (1990) as a contributing founder of MIT $100K.


He is the son of constitutional law scholar William Van Alstyne. On September 7, 2010, he used the Heimlich maneuver to save the life of songwriter and gospel singer Ron Kenoly who was choking in a Washington, D.C. hotel.

Selected publications

For a full list see Scholar Citiations


  1. "MIT Sloan CIO Symposium: Marshall Van Alstyne". MIT Sloan CIO Symposium. 2015-05-18. Retrieved 2015-05-30.
  2. Boston University School of Management Profile
  3. An Economic Response to Unsolicited Communication
  4. Information Complements, Substitutes, and Strategic Product Design
  5. The Diversity-Bandwidth Trade-off
  6. Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Awards by State (FY 1999)
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