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Cover image of Interop


Title: Interop

Authors: John Palfrey and Urs Gasser

Publisher: Basic Books

Copyright: 2012

ISBN13: 978-0-465-02197-0

Length: 296

Price: $28.99

Rating: 81%

I purchased this book for my own use.

I hate not liking Interop. The subject is enticing and the authors are very well-qualified. John Palfrey is a director and Urs Gasser the executive director of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, among other positions, but their book never moves from the descriptive to the predictive.

I'm sure there's plenty of meat on the bone behind the scenes in the authors' consulting practice, but Interop leaves me unfulfilled. They refer to a theory of interoperability and spend a lot of time describing systems such as UPC symbols and the internet that are obviously complex and must interoperate at many levels to function, but they never go into any meaningful detail on how to implement their theory. To paraphrase Tom Stoppard in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, I kept waiting for them to delve.

From an analytical standpoint, I don't believe their concept of interop rises to the level of a theory. I'm not using the term as strictly as one might in the physical sciences, where theories are well-established frameworks that let you make predictions about the physical world and then test those predictions rigorously. Even in the social sciences, though, I would expect a theory to extend beyond description and provide some predictive power. Making predictions regarding complex systems is devilishly hard because of the systems' extreme sensitivity to initial conditions and change, but I wanted their text to give me some new power over those environments. I never got it.

I don't mean to be disdainful of Palfrey and Gasser's work. They are clearly knowledgeable and provide a useful overview of many contemporary technologies, but Interop the book appears to be nothing more than a survey of the technological, legal, and social landscape as of the June 2012 publication date. Even the case studies, available for free on the Berkman Center's website, do little more than describe how bar codes, medical records, and the smart grid are interop-related systems. I'm concerned that the lessons for consultants and planners are only there if you already know what the authors want to teach you.

Curtis Frye is the editor of Technology and Society Book Reviews. He is the author of more than 30 books, including Improspectives, his look at applying the principles of improv comedy to business and life. His list includes more than 20 books for Microsoft Press and O'Reilly Media; he has also created over a dozen online training courses for In addition to his writing, Curt is a keynote speaker and entertainer. You can find more information about him at


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