Least Flexible Protocol Wins

When two systems negotiate with each other, the one with the least flexible protocol always dominates. The LeastCommonDenominatorRules.

Examples: Am I missing something? Of course it does, because the least flexible protocol can't handle the flexibility of the more flexible one (although it seems to be talking about "protocol with least options" not "least flexible"). What's the point this page is trying to make?

The point: When two parties meet, the one with the least flexible protocol can be seen as having an advantage over the other. Flexibility can be a liability.

I still don't get it. The two can talk. In what way does the least flexible have "an advantage"? In implementation effort/complexity? The "more flexible" protocol can interact, possibly, with a number of different less flexible protocols, so it has an "advantage" too.

I find the whole idea there's a battle in which one party must "lose" for the other to "win" (see below) when two protocols negotiate baffling. If the two end up communicating, who has lost? What does "win" mean here? Force the other side to use your preferred options?

Yes, that's what win means. Imagine the interaction between two countries. If country A uses a protocol that includes war, sanctions and negotiations and country B uses a protocol that only includes war, then the least flexible protocol (war only) wins.

That doesn't mean country B wins the war, but it does mean a war will happen. It gives B an advantage because B doesn't have to spend resources preparing for anything but war, and B also knows the outcome of all of its interactions with A before A does.

Entering war is hardly a win for either country. Further, this isn't exactly a very good analogy. If country A uses a protocol that includes only negotions, but country B uses a protocol that includes war and negotions, there very well might still be a war.

Flexibility exists when one possesses options, but one is not forced to actually accept certain options. One reason to resist acceptance of certain protocols is that it has hidden or systematic costs elsewhere... e.g. if one can communicate encrypted or unencrypted, and the other guy can only communicate unencrypted, it might be better to still actively choose to reject unencrypted communications on an open, distributed system. This immediately gives control right back to the users of the flexible protocol. The flexibility remains, and the least flexible protocol can easily 'lose'.


Sometimes there is no protocol common to both parties. An example is a trying to view a Web site designed in MacromediaFlash with LynxBrowser.


One protocol may choose to bypass another protocol, regardless of commonality. This may be because of the desire to dominate, being unaware of alternatives, the desire to do something different, the desire not to be slowed down, the realization that they will lose.

A protocol has desires? You're clearly in a different reality from me

Protocols are communications patterns observed (or to be observed) by agents, which can have desires or be controlled by entities with desires.


This reminds me of a part in HowTheMindWorks on the AdvantageOfDisadvantage?: if I can prove that I cannot do something, it cannot be demanded from me.

Example: I want to buy a car and the seller would sell it for say 7000, but expects 12000 (which I don't know). He obviously wants to sell it as high as possible. If I can pay 10000, but would prefer less, where do we meet? Halfway between 7000 and 10000 or what? We will not tell our limit, thus the usual procedure is to make offer and counter offer until one accepts or the deal fails. The result might be in the middle at 8500.

Not conceding at all will be understood as uncooperative and the deal might fail. But if I can prove or at least make plausible (e.g., using a bank statement) that I am completely unable to pay more than, say, 8000, the dealer has no option but to refuse or take it, which he will, because that is within his span.

-- GunnarZarncke


The other side of this coin is that the Most Flexible Protocol Does More Business (I was going to say "Gets More Dates" but, well ...). In any given session, the less flexible entity prevails. In a larger scope, though, the more flexible entity will transact more broadly.

If my date will only eat salad, I will prepare a salad for that dinner. If, next week, my date will eat steak, then I will prepare steak. Next month, if my date prefers pasta, I might prepare spaghetti. If I am the omnivore, my range of association is greater.

In the limited context "wins" becomes "determines this session" while in the broader context "wins" becomes "richer by virtue of more traffic" -- I'll take the "more traffic," please.

-- GarryHamilton

But your date got to eat exactly what he or she wanted and you didn't. -- EricHodges

Well, if he is truly an omnivore, the he liked the variety, (maybe what he wanted to eat was a different thing for each date)

Actually, even if he likes salad on some days and steak on others, it doesn't mean he wanted them at the time of the date. The reason Garry's date gets what she wants is because he's catering to the date - focusing upon her wants, her needs. OTOH, maybe what he really wants to eat isn't the meal...

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