The DataPortability Workgroupannounced this morning that representatives from both Google and Facebook are joining its ranks. The group is working on a variety of projects to foster an era of Data Portability – where users can take their data from the websites they use to reuse elsewhere and where vendors can leverage safe cross-site data exchange for a whole new level of innovation. Good bye customer lock-in, hello to new privacy challenges. If things go right, today could be a very important day in the history of the internet.

The non-participation of Google and Facebook, two companies that hold more user data and do more with it than almost any other consumer service on the market, was the biggest stumbling block to the viability of the project. These are two of the most important companies in recent history – what’s being decided now is whether they will be walled-garden, data-horders or truly open platforms tied into a larger ecosystem of innovation with respect for user rights and sensible policies about data.

The Representatives

Google will be represented by Brad Fitzpatrick, the inventor of LiveJournal and one of the primary minds behind OpenID, the concept of the Social Graph and the Google-led OpenSocial platform. Facebook will be represented by Benjamin Ling, who today runs the Facebook platform. Ling defected from Google three months ago, where he ran Google Checkout, to join Facebook. Also joining the workgroup is Joseph Smarr of Plaxo, probably the catalyst for all of this after his company scraped Robert Scoble’s Facebook account and set off a huge debate about Data Portability and privacy.

Challenges Ahead

If these industry titans can put aside their rivalry and work together – magic could happen. Hopefully they can work appropriately with the other members of the working group, bleeding edge consultants and representatives of smaller and in many cases more user-centric companies. If so, perhaps we can move appropriately into a future of powerful personalization and logically augmented activity online – while avoiding Minority Report-style dystopian scenarios.

Innovation on the internet is in its early, early days. The participation of representatives from Google and Facebook in this initiative could prove key in the continued development of what’s possible, instead of the early suffocation of what could have been.

May the participants work nicely together to create the magic that we’re waiting for.

See also: The ReadWriteWeb toollkit for 2008, where you’ll find resources for tracking data portability and other key issues in the coming year.

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