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I’ve long been behind the idea of data portability, especially in relation to social networks but does any member of the public actually care about this – or should they?

On the face of it, people have accounts for specific needs – Amazon because you are a customer, Facebook because that’s what you use for your social networking, etc. So why would DP make any difference to them? Surely it’s a technical problem with a technical solution?

While that is the case, I believe that it will change the nature of how people can use sites and services on the web. Let’s be fanciful for a second and suppose that we’re in a time when this is possible:

A new service is launched that appeals. You read about it and click join up. You paste in your OpenID (or equivalent) with your password, the service checks your details, you confirm that you give them access to the data they’ve requested and boom – you’re in. Not only that but if any of your friends use the service, you’re already connected. Out in your ‘personal dashboard’ (or social network home page), you can see your lifestream of who you know is doing what on which service and use your favourite tools to communicate and share across services.

You should be able to move from one service to the next painlessly. This also means that the service needs to work around value beyond using it’s closed walls to amass a number of users. Their service needs to have a clear USP and offer real benefit to their users or people can move on.

Facebook in particular seem to be embracing open access but on a very one way street; while you can access limited data sets from their API, they’re bring in more data from outside their system, making the proposition that you don’t need to go anywhere else – you can do everything you want here! But the fact that once you become so embedded in a silo like theirs it’s not easy to leave limits the chances of anyone trying another social networking service. Good fr Facebook but not great for users – in my opinion.

The reason I like DP and OpenID is the fact that you should own your stuff – the information people have about you and the files and media you share. Services should be a mechanism to facilitate a need – like social networking with communication, Flickr for photo sharing, etc. With portability, services will have to raise their game to retain users, which I believe should also give real merit to high company valuations for those that succeed in an open environment.

The public shouldn’t care about it now, but they should notice once a solution is found how they have more freedom and ownership, which if it’s successful would be a powerful thing.

** UPDATE **

Check out this article which is kind of related: http://techwhimsy.com/data-portability-do-normal-people-even-care

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16th April, 2008