Data portability is the idea that individuals have control over their data online and can determine how they and others can use that data (if at all). Some examples of what data portability could be include:
- your profile ‘auto-filling’ when you join a new site
- exporting details of your social network contacts to an external contact manager
- easily migrate blogs between different service platforms
- easily moving photos from one web service to another (eg from Flickr to Zooomr)
There is no denying that data portability is a hot issue amongst the tech community. There is the Data Portability Project, Google’s Open Social initiative for widgets/gadgets/apps in the social networking space, uber blogger, PR machine and the loudest echo in the chamber Robert Scoble avidly pushing data portability at every turn before accepting that there are roadblocks to data portability and the recent announcement by Yahoo! that it is rewiring its network of internet properties for social graph and data portability. However, all this is for the geeks and the techies. What about the real world and real, normal people who don’t live and breathe this stuff.
Do normal people care about data portability? As always, when it comes to finding out the opinions of the tech savvy but not tech obsessed, I turned to my wife, who although she spends a lot of time online, she is very far removed from the echo chamber that many people find themselves in. She couldn’t tell you how much Google spent on buying the latest start up, or who Jason Calacanis is, what Twitter does, who Duncan Riley is angry at this week or any of the other things that fill the pages of Techmeme on a daily basis.
What my wife can tell me is what normal people (ie not early adopters) think. Her extensive network of online friends, although from large and varied backgrounds with wildly different views on many things, share a common thread – they use the internet as a tool, not as a game, or a money making machine or as a way of life.
I asked my wife, “Does anyone care about data portability?” I then had to explain about ideas such as exporting your Facebook contacts to Outlook, or moving photos from Flickr to Zooomr, or shifting a Blogger blog to WordPress and so on. The blank, uncomprehending stare slowly became more focused as she began to understand what I was trying to say. “Outlook? Why would I want to do that? Flickr? Don’t most people just keep a copy of their photos on their hard drive anyway? I know you can move from Blogger to WordPress fairly easily. […..] did that and it worked fine” and so on.
Data portability. Do normal people care? Probably not. Right now, it just doesn’t affect them. Normal people don’t hop from web service to web service. Normal people don’t seem to have extensive collections of media online and even if they did, they’ve still got the original files floating around. Rudimentary services that work more or less good enough already exist for the bigger services, especially where there is a commercial imperative to make importation easy.
Is data portability important? I believe so. However, until data lock in has an impact on the online experience of the slow adopters, no one will really care.