Rubbing Together

If you rub two surfaces against each other they tend to smooth each other out. But, if you rub them every which way for long enough they don’t get flat. To get a flat surface you need to rub three surfaces against each other in assorted combinations. You can make optically flat surfaces this way. My father was an optics guy. He taught me that, but I forgot until recently.

Since being reminded about that I’ve been thinking about how interfaces boundaries rub against each other and how they tend to smooth out over time.

In industrial standards work we spend a lot of time proactively creating specifications whose intent is to assure smooth efficient exchange on interfaces. It’s not uncommon to fly brilliant engineers and implementors to other continents so they can do interopt testing to assure that the resulting systems are conformant to the spec and work smoothly with each other. The cost of such coordinated efforts is extremely high; often fatally high.

Rubbing isn’t a very sophisticated approach to gettting a smooth surface. It is what I was taught to call a strong method, a method that works in all cases. Rubbing, in optics, is always the last method. When you make a lens you attempt to get it right; but latter you always use rubbing to get it right.

I distill two points out of all that.

Simple standards tend to win because they have fewer rough edges that need to be worn down when you get to the rubbing stage.

Rubbing to get things smooth and interoperable is always part of the story.

Standards that are many to many smooth out better. I.e. one of the challenges in B2B standards compared to other internet standards is the way that it’s less common to find a firm that is doing B2B exchange with a huge number of partners in a way that’s similar to the huge number of sites that web browser visits.

2 thoughts on “Rubbing Together

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