Interoperability: Software and Production

Presented in the context of a discussion about the internet and software, but a good metaphor for society, in general (from the Open Source Initiative):

Metcalfe’s Law predicts that the value of interoperability increases geometrically with the number of compatible participants, and Reed’s Law predicts that the utility of a network (implied by interoperable equivalence) increases exponentially due to the number of possible subgroups that interoperability enables. Both theories have successfully informed the investment of literally billions of dollars of capital investment as the Internet has become mainstream. Whichever law ultimately governs, interoperability is a positive function governing value, and thus any force that diminishes interoperability must be carefully scrutinized as it relates to ultimate and/or total value.

Open source software development highlights changes in production (cross-organization collaboration, privileging of contributory potential over proprietary rights) that will come to affect all production.  The most radical developments are happening in the software realm because, among, perhaps, other reasons, (1) collaboration thereupon can happen across great distance, (2) the returns to productivity of innovation itself are great enough that it is sometimes rational to forgo returns to ownership, and (3) the networking benefits of contributing to an innovating community have grown tremendously with the development of the internet.

These trends affect all productive activity, though often in a less vivid manner.


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