Let's say we discover alien civilizations that are able to send and receive messages using an interstellar digital communications channel. (Say using modulated radio waves, laser pulses, re-positioning stars in various orbits, what have you.) Let's assume we have decided to make contact with them.
Once we initiate a dialog, how would we go about establishing a communications protocol and language? What methodology would we use to agree on a basic vocabulary and ways of expressing logical ideas? Is it ad-hoc or is there some way to optimize the process of establishing a common language based on symbolic manipulations. We would want to agree on a language quickly and minimize the resources required to encode and send messages (since they're quite slow to send).
Next, reciprocity: Once we have a shared language, how would we make sure that both sides reciprocate in trading secrets? That is, we don't want to be in a situation where we give away valuable technology without receiving anything in return. Can both sides prove that they posses certain technology? Is there a way to send results piecemeal, gradually, so that each side can have increasing confidence in the value of the message?