One of the buzz phrases we've heard a lot this year is "data portability", which means the ability to move your personal data between different applications and vendors. It has its own standards group, called naturally enough DataPortability.org. Some of the big Internet companies have signaled their support for data portability - in January Google and Facebook joined DataPortability.org, and in February Microsoft announced a strategy shift towards Data Portability for its core products Windows and Office.
ReadWriteTalk host Sean Ammirati this week interviewed Chris Saad, the co-founder of DataPortability.org, to ask him how the group has been progressing - and perhaps more importantly where it's headed next.
What's Next at DataPortability.org
As Sean explained in his intro, since being founded about 6 months ago one of Data Portability's primary goals has been to 'develop a narrative' for data portability. That has largely been successful and the topic was actively discussed at SxSW and Web 2.0 Expo this year. Sean asked Chris what is next on the list of things for DataPortability.org to do? He responded that technical best practices are next up:
"...if we don't deliver a fairly solid set of best practices, particularly technical best practices - preferably the early versions of the policy and user experience best practices as well - I would be slightly disappointed. It's a massive group with a really important and broad problem domain. So I'm extremely proud of the group so far. But I think we're well on our way to delivering a good and comprehensive first draft of our technical best practices."
As an example, Chris pointed to "a document or a set of documents that explains how one would implement, let's say, logging in, discovering what services a user uses, how you would authenticate against those services, how you would expect to get certain of those data back, and perhaps how you would go about updating that data."
Getting Facebook On Board
It's fair to say that some of the big vendors still haven't totally embraced Data Portability, despite the public displays of support from the likes of Google, Microsoft and Facebook. In particular, Chris Saad noted that "Facebook is the least communicative" of the big Internet companies when it comes to liaising with DataPortability.org. However he has been very happy with progress made by Microsoft, Google, and MySpace.
In the podcast, Sean referenced a RWW interview with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, in which Zuckerberg told Marshall Kirkpatrick: "We are philosophically aligned with the Data Portability movement, but we're pushing it our own way to make the world a more opened place." Zuckerberg's point being that Facebook is focusing on questions of privacy and user control, as perhaps more important pieces of the data portability puzzle.
Chris Saad's response to that was: "I don't believe that it's a zero-sum game where privacy needs to give way to Data Portability or vice versa." He went on to explain:
"...I think with a level of common sense and with the checks and balances that we're building into the architecture, that privacy will be not an off-shoot, but it will be dealt with and dealt with in the only way that it can. I'm making it analogous it to Wi-Fi. Just because you can't connect to a Wi-fi. hotspot doesn't mean that you choose to. And when you connect, it doesn't mean that it's a free flow. It means you may need to put in your password and username to grant permission and various things. And that's very much analogous to what we're doing."
So according to Chris, "privacy is not being ignored" in the Data Portability movement. Certainly the technical best practices the group is working on will help companies like Facebook adapt to the emerging world of data portability. The question is: will Facebook pay attention to them? It will also be interesting to see how much 'walking the talk' Microsoft and Google do.