Interoperability in Consumer Empowerment

Or the road to disaster.

This is my third week in the Ryerson Communications program in Digital Skills and Innovation for a Global Economy and I have learned so much. So much that through my excitement I felt compelled to share the pivotal points to you by tweeting the YouTube videos and other views that I felt you would benefit from. There is so much out there as you already know, but to a novice that I feel I am, I have been enjoying this learning and hope you enjoy my adventure. The following YouTube video has the authors of my text Messrs Urs Gasser and John Palfrey on Interop: The Promise and Perils of Highly Interconnected Systems speaking on this subject.

In this week, while I have learned that consumers, companies, and governments should work together for higher levels of interoperability, I learned that what is good for consumers is not necessarily in the best profit interests of companies. This was made clear in the case of chargers for all of our electronic devices. I certainly have a drawer of them and often frustrated in not being able to find the one I need. The fact that the European Union as a result of pressure from consumers and environmentalists finally had the top ten cell phone chargers interoperable by “introducing a shared micro-USB standard” was very encouraging. This “legislation by threat” example pointed out the power of humans if an institution such as the government steps in to apply pressure on companies for greater interoperability. (Palfrey and Gasser, Pg 58-59). This next article explains in more detail the advance technology and why some companies are not so quick to be interoperable.

Without this pressure it seems that achieving horizontal interoperability where all the big companies make their various gadgets or in the case of China, instant messaging tools compatible, is a long term struggle. Companies such as Apple would be inclined to work toward vertical interoperability instead where all the consumers texting, viewing and listening desires are interoperable within the range of “I” products but not beyond. Even here, I learned that strides are being made to expand rather than contract the degree of interoperability (even if in some cases a premium has to be paid) as a result of consumer demands.

Finally as I explored the various instant messaging tools this week, it was interesting to read the case of the Tencent and Qihoo in the “Chinese Internet wars” in my text Interop, pg 67 cited how “consumer demand has played a role in driving interoperability horizontally across platforms.” It was interesting as well that it was computer programmers or the technology layer who were primarily responsible for the successes in this area. There is no doubt that interoperability empowers us in our role as active users of digital technology.

The YouTube video that follows shares more detail about these two internet giants in China.

”Most important from a society perspective, interoperability empowers us in our role as active users of digital technology. The powerful role that interoperability plays in this respect becomes clear when we look at the ways in which millions of computer and smartphone users now can create and share digital content.” (pg 72)

This YouTube video is an example of working together to make improvements to technology that is affordable for all.

The big question is, to what extent in the shrinking number of major players in the global economy, will demands for interoperability make the biggest players more competitive and therefore responsive to consumer demand? And, to what extent might we be setting the stage where one or a few giant companies control the thoughts and communications of all consumers?


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