“Interoperability is the ability of diverse systems and organizations to work together (inter-operate). While the term was initially defined for information technology or systems engineering services to allow for information exchange, a more broad definition takes into account social, political, and organizational factors that impact system to system performance.”

Interoperability, in its broad definition is a core notion to collaborability. Interoperability lowers the resistance between nodes (whether humans or systems etc.) and therefore adds to collaborability.

Our tooling is developing in an accelerating pace over time. At the moment the most prevalent developments are around the digitisation and interconnectedness of our society where humans and “things” (sensors, systems, appliances etc.) are being linked up rapidly. This is increasing the effective reach of our network. The interconnected world is heavily dependent on interoperability of systems.

Issues around interoperability have been around for ages. When the steam engine powered trains were introduced various track widths were employed. This effectively limited the reach of the trains. In my student days I remember I had to change trains in the North of Spain due to the incompatible tracks with those in France.

Interoperability is based on standardisation.


  • Language: allows people to exchange information, thoughts and knowledge;
  • Market places: e.g. Ebay creates an environment where ad hoc supply and ad hoc demand can structurally be matched;
  • Money: creates interoperability between commodities, goods and services for exchange.
  • Containers: make many logistical systems interoperable.
  • etc

Many of the developments in mechanisms of collaboration like markets/exchange, standards, law etc. time are infect meant to increase “interoperability” between humans collaborating or the systems/tools we use.

Interoperability is not something that comes automatically. Some of the most visual companies today, like Facebook and google, are creating environments that can be seen as “walled gardens” on the internet, increasingly not interoperable with the rest of the web. These companies can do this from their companies strategic perspectives while invoking the externality of reduced interoperability (thus reduced collaborability) on others.

An interesting article on the Facebook effect on API’s, the business model of start-ups and the loss of interoperability: Adactio: Journal—Battle for the planet of the APIs.

Another interesting read on Google and the RSS API and the erection of a walled Google garden at the expense of the open internet: Lockdown – (via Daring Fireball)