Interop - The Promise and Perils of Highly Connected Systems

John Palfrey and Urs Gasser

Published by

Basic Books





Reviewed by

Nick Dunn, Information Security Consultant, NCC Group


7 out of 10

Written by two US academics, this book discusses the advantages and disadvantages of interoperability. It attempts to provide a unified theory for interconnected systems, focussing chiefly on computer systems but also briefly discussing legal and economic systems.

Systems are discussed from several perspectives such as privacy and security, innovation, consumer benefits, efficiency and the effects of interconnectivity on the marketplace in terms of monopolies and completion between vendors. All of this is generally well thought out and presented in a readable and reasonably entertaining manner.

Unfortunately, it is surprising to see a lack of intellectual rigour in a book that aspires to bring a formal academic and theoretical approach to the subject. Phrases such as ‘interoperability is good for consumers’ are used, without discussing what is meant by ‘good’ or even why the authors consider interoperability to be universally good for every single consumer.

This, and similar examples, give a general impression that the authors’ theories are based on generally accepted ideas rather than an attempt to construct theories from an examination of data, possibly discovering ideas that go against conventional dogma.

As indicated above, there is a lack of evidence being provided for some ideas, with phrases such as ‘studies have shown’ being used with no further detail provided, along with occasional comments that appear to indicate a lack of technical understanding such as an apparent failure to understand that ODF (Open Document Format) is an open source XML format that can be freely extended by its users. This is a shame as the book is readable and quite enjoyable and provides a good basic theoretical framework.

The reader is left with a feeling that the book does not fully meet its promises, and it could have been both more authoritative and less frustrating if these issues had been dealt with before publishing and the reader is left with a feeling that the book does not fully meet its promises.

Further information: Basic Books

January 2013