In a surprise move just unveiled this morning, a handful of big players led by MySpace and Yahoo! have announced that public profiles, photos, videos and friend networks will now be portable from one site to another. We're immediately wondering why this was a partnership between a handful of big sites instead of a move to truly open to the web in general.
According to a first report on TechCrunch, the initiative will begin with user information from MySpace being made available to Yahoo, Twitter and eBay in the next few weeks. MySpace is reported to have said that they will seek ways for "mom and pop sites" to participate as well in the future.
What Will This Look Like?
Though details are thin right now, it appears that end users will be able to do things like find friends from MySpace on Twitter, perhaps search for Twitter friends on Yahoo! Instant Messenger and perhaps port Flickr photos easily to eBay.
User authentication will be done with the emerging standard oAuth - which is a big win for the people working on that.
Below is a mock-up posted by TechCrunch of a MySpace developer's Twitter page, apparently integrating his profile information from MySpace.
Why is MySpace Leading The Charge?
We can't help but wonder why MySpace appears to be taking the lead on this initiative instead of Yahoo! - who recently announced that all their properties will be rewired top to bottom to facilitate friend and content portability. TechCrunch asserts that MySpace will become the central hub where people will store their information, but we hope that none of the partners will play that roll. True social interoperability shouldn't privilege any one site over another.
Hopefully that won't remain an issue. In a blog post this morning, Data Portability Working Group founder and chair Chris Saad announced that MySpace has officially joined the Working Group and that "we hope to see the MySpace "Data Availability" initiative evolve toward becoming a compliant implementation of the DataPortability Best Practices." We hope so too.
Ben Metcalfe, a co-founder of the Data Portability working group, is "Director of Engineering, MySpace Platform" and will be heavily involved in the deliverables, Saad told us. Metcalfe is a guy who doesn't take any B.S. so we hope he can make this work. Update: Metcalfe offers a response in comments below.
For some reason the announcement is being framed with the term "Data Availability" - which does seem to imply that it's something different from Data Portability. If MySpace ends up owning this initiative it's going to be a real shame. Data Portability standards are available and ready to be innovated upon - we really hope this partnership doesn't take the form of a new social "walled garden."
We hope that all of the content at issue will be marked up with standards-based microformats, be made accessible with standards-based authentication and be freely available to any party that wishes to innovate on top of it. Most of those wishes seem to be coming true with this announcement.
MySpace told Michael Arrington that they still intended to leverage the Google lead Open Social as soon as it was ready. That's what everyone's saying; Open Social seems to have been a major disappointment, falling far short of the kind of cross-site data portability that today's announcement seems to aim for. Hopefully this network of partners will open up fast, not just to each other but to the web at large.
Check out this new video from Data Portability, just released and seen here first. Made by smashcut-media.com. Let's hope that the folks pushing true data portability aren't relegated to making dazzling videos while the vendors keep to themselves and cut deals.