Today, the Berkman Center joins Urs Gasser and all our friends from the University of St. Gallen in hosting a workshop on interoperability and innovation, in Weissbad, Switzerland. We are in the company of an interesting, eclectic group of technologists, academics, and NGOs leaders. The briefing papers are online.
This workshop is one in a series of such small-group conversations intended both to foster discussion and to inform our own work in this area of interoperability and its relationship to innovation in the field that we study. This is among the hardest, most complex topics that I’ve ever taken up in a serious way.
As with many of the other interesting topics in our field, interop makes clear the difficulty of truly understanding what is going on without having 1) skill in a variety of disciplines, or, absent a super-person who has all these skills in one mind, an interdisciplinary group of people who can bring these skills to bear together; 2) knowledge of multiple factual settings; and 3) perspectives from different places and cultures. While we’ve committed to a transatlantic dialogue on this topic, we realize that even in so doing we are still ignoring the vast majority of the world, where people no doubt also have something to say about interop. This need for breadth and depth is at once fascinating and painful.
In addition to calling for an interdisciplinary and international group of researchers or research inputs, there is no way to talk about interop in a purely abstract way: interop makes sense conceptually online in the context of a set of facts. We’ve decided, for starters, to focus on digital media (DRM interop in the music space in particular); digital identity; and a third primary case (which may be e-Communications, web services, and office applications). One of our goals in this research is to integrate our previous work on digital media, digital ID, and web 2.0 and so forth into this cross-cutting topic of interop.
Another thing is quite clear, as stated most plainly and eloquently by Prof. Francois Leveque of the Ecole des Mines: we need to acknowledge what we do not know, and we really do not know — empirically — to what extent interop has an impact on innovation. A major thrust of our work is to try to establish models of analysis that might help, in varying factual circumstances, in the absence of empirical data as to the costs and benefits of a certain regulatory decision.
This research effort is supported primarily by a gift from Microsoft (as always in our work with corporate sponsors, this gift is unrestricted and mixed with other such unrestricted funds, as well as our core funding from various sources, to mitigate the risk that we are influenced in our work by virtue of sponsorship). We have been blessed by our partners in industry, including many at Microsoft from the Legal and Corporate Affairs group, led by Annemarie Levins on this project, by their willingness to share with us an in-depth view of their work across a range of areas on interop. We’ve also been supported by the input from technologists at IBM and Intel in this event, and many other firms, through our interviewing process. We’d love to hear from other industry, and non-industry, players with an interest in this field.