Cory Doctorow #BLM+ Your Authors @doctorow Pre-order the audio- and e-book for ATTACK SURFACE, the third Little Brother book, on my first-ever Kickstarter: Sep. 14, 2020 2 min read + Your Authors

Big Tech concentration is commonly attributed to "network effects" and "data advantage," but there's a simpler explanation, one that is much more in line with historic precedent and political conditions:


Big Tech is concentrated because it formed monopolies whose excess revenues were spent on anti-competitive policies (generating more excess revenues). Notably, the Big Tech monopolies have spent decades destroying interoperability. 


After all, an examination of the history of tech shows that, time and again, when tech grew concentrated, new companies, products and services broke up that power by creating interoperable products. 


Interoperability turns "network effects" on their head by treating established walled gardens as corrals full of conveniently organized potential customers for new, competing products and services.


The reinvigorated pro-competition discussion has triggered a very welcome interest in interoperability as well, with some of the best work being done by Oxford computer scientist @1Br0wn.


Back in July, Brown released a preprint of a magesterial new paper on how interoperability can be a tool for promoting competition policy. 


Now he's released a followup, "The technical components of interoperability as a tool for competition regulation," which really digs into the technical aspects of interop - what do we talk about when we talk about interoperability? 


The basis for the paper is a literature review, augmented by "10 semi-structured interviews with software developers, platform operators, technical standards experts, current and former government officials, and academic and civil society experts working in this field."


And its headline finding is a short, excellent taxonomy of five different degrees of interop:

0. Platform-permissioned vertical interoperability - stuff like "Sign in with [Facebook/Twitter/Apple/Google]"


I. Open vertical interoperability - stuff like "data portability" where you can take your data to a rival service

II. Public interaction - public messages mirrored between different services (like embedding a Tweet in a Facebook post)


III. Private interaction - friending ormessaging someone on a rival service, locating friends from one service who're using another one


IV. Horizontal interoperability - replacing components of one service with a rival's versions, seamlessly interacting with users of rival services

Brown's paper has a wealth of thoughtful detail and real-world technical examples.


And he's promised a third instalment in the series, on interop, disinformation and privacy - this is the white whale of interop, and I'm working on a paper about it myself right now and eagerly looking forward to cribbing from Brown on it!


You can follow @doctorow.


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