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Interop: The Promise and Perils of Highly…
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Interop: The Promise and Perils of Highly Interconnected Systems

by John Palfrey, Urs Gasser

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Palfrey and Gasser’s book looks at the benefits and risks of interconnectivity in order to lay out a way to both understand what’s involved and how to achieve the best level of healthy interconnectivity without inadvertently introducing too many risks. One of the reasons interconnectivity is difficult is that it’s not only a technical issue. It has at least four layers: the technology involved, the content or data being shared, the humans using the data, and an institutional layer of people deciding through laws, standards, cultural values, or business decisions how they want to interact and who's going to pay for it.

Palfrey and Gasser provide interesting examples of why interop is beneficial – including the ways that people who didn’t know one another were able to use open source software to connect with each other and with people on the ground when Haiti was struck by a massive earthquake in 2010. In this case, it involved a non-profit technology company that had designed a suite of interactive software designed to work in crisis situations, a program at Tufts University, the United Nations, and an intriguing organization I’d never heard of, the International Network of Crisis Mappers. Online and on the ground, information was gathered, shared, and used by people who had never met, but had to act, right now. This is interop in the public interest, and it was fast, effective, and democratic. On the other hand, there are issues around privacy and security in which interop can spread problems quickly.

Palfrey and Gasser have written a clear and well-organized book about a topic many librarians will instinctively recognize (and, indeed, a chapter is devoted to sharing and preserving knowledge). But once you read it, you will see interop issues everywhere. In a world where we tend to specialize, they have done a good job of drawing from a wide range of disciplines, including communication studies, law, sociology, economics, and information science, to map out how culture and technology and our efforts to weave our systems into a coherent whole are complicated on many levels. The book includes a case study on how integrating our healthcare information systems could bring benefits – yet is so very hard to do for many reasons. There are more case studies available online through the Berkman Center for Internet and Society.

As the authors point out, so many of the choices we make today are part of a tangle of intersecting concerns. We can’t pull on one string to untangle them all, we can't patch them together with a little extra code. We need to understand the whole tangled mess. The authors argue that understanding interop processes might help us make better decisions about our interconnected world. “It should push us, as individuals and as societies, to acknowledge and address the costs and benefits of deep interconnection among technologies, data, humans, and institutions." As the authors point out, it's only if we understand complex systems and what is at stake if they fail, that we will be able "to fashion the kind of world in which we want to live.”

This review is condensed from a column I wrote at Inside Higher Ed,
  bfister | Jul 8, 2012 |
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Gasser, Ursmain authorall editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0465021972, Hardcover)

In Interop, technology experts John Palfrey and Urs Gasser explore the immense importance of interoperability—the standardization and integration of technology—and show how this simple principle will hold the key to our success in the coming decades and beyond.

The practice of standardization has been facilitating innovation and economic growth for centuries. The standardization of the railroad gauge revolutionized the flow of commodities, the standardization of money revolutionized debt markets and simplified trade, and the standardization of credit networks has allowed for the purchase of goods using money deposited in a bank half a world away. These advancements did not eradicate the different systems they affected; instead, each system has been transformed so that it can interoperate with systems all over the world, while still preserving local diversity.

As Palfrey and Gasser show, interoperability is a critical aspect of any successful system—and now it is more important than ever. Today we are confronted with challenges that affect us on a global scale: the financial crisis, the quest for sustainable energy, and the need to reform health care systems and improve global disaster response systems. The successful flow of information across systems is crucial if we are to solve these problems, but we must also learn to manage the vast degree of interconnection inherent in each system involved. Interoperability offers a number of solutions to these global challenges, but Palfrey and Gasser also consider its potential negative effects, especially with respect to privacy, security, and co-dependence of states; indeed, interoperability has already sparked debates about document data formats, digital music, and how to create successful yet safe cloud computing. Interop demonstrates that, in order to get the most out of interoperability while minimizing its risks, we will need to fundamentally revisit our understanding of how it works, and how it can allow for improvements in each of its constituent parts.

In Interop, Palfrey and Gasser argue that there needs to be a nuanced, stable theory of interoperability—one that still generates efficiencies, but which also ensures a sustainable mode of interconnection. Pointing the way forward for the new information economy, Interop provides valuable insights into how technological integration and innovation can flourish in the twenty-first century.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:04:49 -0400)

"In Interop, technology experts John Palfrey and Urs Gasser explore the immense importance of interoperability-the standardization and integration of technology-and show how this simple principle will hold the key to our success in the coming decades and beyond.The practice of standardization has been facilitating innovation and economic growth for centuries. The standardization of the railroad gauge revolutionized the flow of commodities, the standardization of money revolutionized debt markets and simplified trade, and the standardization of credit networks has allowed for the purchase of goods using money deposited in a bank half a world away. These advancements did not eradicate the different systems they affected; instead, each system has been transformed so that it can interoperate with systems all over the world, while still preserving local diversity.As Palfrey and Gasser show, interoperability is a critical aspect of any successful system-and now it is more important than ever. Today we are confronted with challenges that affect us on a global scale: the financial crisis, the quest for sustainable energy, and the need to reform health care systems and improve global disaster response systems. The successful flow of information across systems is crucial if we are to solve these problems, but we must also learn to manage the vast degree of interconnection inherent in each system involved. Interoperability offers a number of solutions to these global challenges, but Palfrey and Gasser also consider its potential negative effects, especially with respect to privacy, security, and co-dependence of states; indeed, interoperability has already sparked debates about document data formats, digital music, and how to create successful yet safe cloud computing. Interop demonstrates that, in order to get the most out of interoperability while minimizing its risks, we will need to fundamentally revisit our understanding of how it works, and how it can allow for improvements in each of its constituent parts.In Interop, Palfrey and Gasser argue that there needs to be a nuanced, stable theory of interoperability-one that still generates efficiencies, but which also ensures a sustainable mode of interconnection. Pointing the way forward for the new information economy, Interop provides valuable insights into how technological integration and innovation can flourish in the twenty-first century"--… (more)

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