Interoperability and Innovation Research

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.

Re-envisioning privacy and security online

The combination of our conference this week on digital identity, JZ’s paper and forthcoming book on Generativity and his OII inaugural lecture, this morning’s WSJ, and all manner of other things has convinced me that we need a new framework for thinking about privacy and security in the digital world.

On a plane this morning from SFO-PDX, I read found (at least) three articles that made this problem plain to me, again. One was the piece on the Consumer Privacy Legislative Forum’s day on the Hill yesterday (see the CDT et al. statement), in the context of which Meg Whitman of eBay and Nicole Wong of Google and others made the case for laying “a foundation for a long-term approach to privacy protection” (Whitman, as quoted in the WSJ). Wong wrote, correctly in my view, that “this matrix of [privacy/security] laws is complex, incomplete and sometimes contradictory.” She went on to say: “On an Internet beset with spyware, malware, phishing, identity-theft, and other privacy threats, enforcement of privacy protections has become an industry-wide challenge.” The WSJ story on MySpace and its advertiser relationships — in the wake of a $30 million lawsuit against the company related to online safety of a user — made the same point, implicitly. A nice Web2.0 story on Boston-based Tabblo didn’t have to make the point that anyone can post online photos about anyone, mash them up into a collage, and publish — to anyone else, and everyone else.

The creative opportunities of the web have never been more wonderful and should be embraced. But the privacy and security stakes are rising as we bring our digital identities come online, more and more, and as our digital native children start to experience the good and the bad of this brave new world. What’s the role of schools, and universities, and parents, and kids, and companies, and governments? As the wisdom of the crowd is relied upon to make more and more decisions, what’s the due process when your privacy and security is at stake, if things go wrong? JZ has some good ideas, and so do others. We need to get on with the planning and the building of this foundation, and fast.

(If you’re having trouble grasping the digital ID part of this equation, zip over to ZDNet, where David Berlind does his usual amazingly lucid job of putting it all in context in his review of the Higgins Trust Framework — and n.b. the “spectrum” that he describes, which is right on. Berlind writes: “By the end of the panel, I was visualizing a spectrum of attitudes about technological expression of identity that range from the very negative to the very positive. On one end are the warning signs about what could happen if the right checks, balances, and governance aren’t in place. On the other end is hope. Hope that idenitity could be tapped in a fashion that serves the greater social good.”)

"Our reach exceeds your grasp — deal with it"

Doc Searls quoted Chris Locke in the last panel of today’s day 1 of the digital ID mash-up conference. We haven’t gotten to the point where customers/end-users/seats are yet treated like people, Doc claims. The issue is the creation of relationships, not just market-clearing prices. He’s focused now on the Intention Economy — which, he says, will “save us all a lot of grief.”

John Sviokla says that no market has changed more in the supply/demand equation in the world than information. The industries are de-maturing, he says — from overbuilding, over-mature industries to immature industries (that sounds like us).

Louise Guay of My Virtual Model begins with a collage of her own identity, in the form of a visual grammar — self-expression through images, a true mash-up, about women and technology. Success is based on the user, Louise says, in a paraphrase of Meg Whitman. Louise has demo-ed a Virtual Search Engine — pretty wild — which perfectly demonstrates Doc’s Intention Economy point, as John Sviokla points out. MVM is “doing for fashion what mortgage-backed securities did for the mortgage business.” Louise credits Frank Pillar and Eric von Hippel with inspiring their design.

ID Mash-up is on

I think the key aspects of this conference are figuring out how to make this digital identity business 1) real and understandable to non-technical people (use case-driven, etc.) and 2) a genuine improvement over what we have today, or have had in the past (privacy-enhancing? a better online experience? better grease for commercial transactions?).


Doc says that Mash is Up and he has a pic of Esther and her PC.

Esther Dyson, in the opening session, tells us she hinks we should call the conference “Presentation of Self.”

Kim Taipale, says that the identity we’re talking about is about little more than “allocation of risk.”

Christine Varney (former Clinton administration senior official, now of Hogan and Hartson) says that privacy is really about trust, with four elements that went by really fast.

Here’s Charlie Nesson doing the welcome with me.  In case you were wondering, his T-Shirt says “Gay? Fine by me.”

Here’s my profile (identity?) on the IDMashup conference CMS. I am eager to see what happens with/to it, if anything. (Have I just filled in another form? I suppose it’s the job of all of us to ensure that this is not the case, that it’s more than just that.)

On the topic of Harvard’s own identity, a wonderful post on “Harvard through Canadian Eyes” from Kaliya, Identity Woman.

Identity Mash-up!

Tomorrow morning, we begin the digital identity mash-up conference. I have reason to expect a particularly cool demo from Louise Guay, CEO of My Virtual Model.
Whether you’re in Cambridge, MA, or not, come visit and participate in the community hub.

And follow along with Beth Noveck and all manner of other wonderful people coming to join us, and no doubt blogging it.

Identity Mash-up

A year’s research on the digital identity metasystem, led by Berkman fellow John Clippinger, culminates in the Identity Mash-up conference June 19 – 21. The participant and speaker lists are already taking excellent shape. The idea is to explore in depth the development of a federated system of digital identities and to explore ways in which this “meta-system” can be privacy-enhancing, giving users more control over their personal data and how it’s used, and fostering the development of a more accountable Internet (the last bit is my own editorializing; many won’t agree, I suppose). The event is sponsored by Microsoft, Best Buy, and others. Registration is open.