Data Portability: do normal people even care?

DP-Logo-GreenData 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)

(more examples of possible use cases for data portability here)

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.

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10 Responses to Data Portability: do normal people even care?

  1. Try another approach – ask your wife is she likes people phishing her details. (That’s prevented by oAuth where you don’t have to give up your password to another service again).

    Ask her if she likes companies tracking what she does online, and then selling what they thinks she likes (that’s alleviated by APML where you can get a copy of what a company thinks you like).

    And if she works at a large company, ask her if she remembers her windows password, network password for VPN, Lotus Notes password, and her intranet password – all of which she has to change every 90 days. (That’s fixed by Openid – a simple identity credential).

  2. shane says:

    Hi Elias,

    Thanks for stopping by. I was wondering if anyone from the Data Portability Project would come across this.

    I agree with all your points, and I concede that perhaps I haven’t been asking the right questions. Data portability is important and I’m not questioning that.

    My wife never gets phished. She’s more aware than most (in my experience) when it comes to recognising what’s a scam and what isn’t. Part of that is living with a geek I guess, but she is also switched on and a natural sceptic.

    I honestly don’t think she’s concerned if a company collects data on her and then tries to sell stuff based on what they think she likes. I suspect (but I would have to confirm) that she likes the idea of a more personalised service.

    Finally, she works from home running a small and private music teaching studio. However, I don’t think the broader implications of OpenID concern her that much. She has already been trained over the years to create multiple logins for different services. I suspect that OpenID might seem like ‘a good thing’ but whether she could be bothered to setup an identity, I’m not sure.

    Data portability is important but I don’t think the negatives of lock in are effecting enough ‘normal’ people yet. I still believe that until it does, most people who shrug their shoulders and say “So what?”. I don’t envy you your struggle. It’s going to be a long haul.

    Two other things (so the finally above was not all that accurate after all…):
    – every 90 days? My corporate network insists on a new password every 30 days, which often leads to unsafe password practices like the same word with a sequentially changing number at the end. Personally, I think the network would be more secure if they just tested the strength of a password and then changed them less frequently
    – is returning blank pages in FF2 and times out/server not found in IE 7 and Opera. Not sure if it’s a server problem or operator error.

  3. Yeah, my host is having server issues and has been for a few hours now which I am not impressed about.

    Personally, I don’t expect people – the ordinary consumer – to care about DataPortability just yet. We are still in a research phase, and the next phase will be a design phase, followed by an evangelism phase. It will be that final phase where the benefits will be articulated.

    I think to myself about RSS, when I was explaining to some guys at my firm in the m&a team. When I told them about having a personalised newspaper, where the information comes to you, their eyes popped out. Some other people, after I explained RSS to them, are now addicted. As people that understand all these open standards, we know they are cool stuff (otherwise we wouldn’t be using it ourselves). We just need an effective way to communicate that to the non-technical people. People can’t say you don’t need something, if you don’t know it exists.

    Once my damn blog gets back online, check my most recent post which explains what I think DataPortability is. I am sure it will still raise questions, but I also think it will give you some perspective as well.

  4. shane says:

    It’s back up now and I enjoyed reading your post (although I think I need to read it a few more times!).

    I do have to say that I think you guys are doing good work and I look forward to the day that DataPortability is mainstream.

  5. Pingback: Should the public care about Data Portability? | Here in the Hive

  6. Oliva says:

    Hi, I am not that familiar with data portability ..I have got an account in facebook but not in orkut. With data portability will I be able to interact with my friends who r in orkut.

  7. shane says:

    Hi Olivia,

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

    Keep in mind that at this stage Data Portability is idea rather than an existing, ready to use technology.

    I’m not an expert on data portability but I think, in a perfect world, it might let you:
    – sign up to Orkut
    – Orkut would automatically fill out your profile based on information you have already agreed is available to be used for profiles
    – Orkut would ask if you would like to import details of your Facebook friends into Orkut
    – Orkut would then search those contacts to see if there is anyone from Facebook also on Orkut

    I don’t think there is anything that would let you interact with Orkut friends from Facebook without joining Orkut, although Google’s Open Social platform for developing apps (like you find in Facebook eg chat, iLike and so on) might allow you to interact with your friends through those apps.

    It’s still all very much up in the air at this stage. Hopefully in a year or two more things will come together to make this happen.

  8. Oliva says:

    Thanks 4 the quick reply Shane. I hope we could just have 1 main profile (1 single contact list).Its really a pain to make profile in different social networking websites & manage them.

  9. Oliva says:

    Shane,i am new to blogging; I hope u could help me out .. I have recently posted in my blog (wordpress) .. my submit comment box is not visible… if someone had to comment they have to click on the link ‘comments’. I want ‘Leave a reply’ section like urs to be visible

  10. shane says:

    Olivia, do you mean, the comments box isn’t visible from the front page, or the comments box is never visible?

    If you look at the homepage here, you will see that there is a ‘leave a comment’ link for each post. However, if you click on the title of the post and go to that post’s own page, the comment box is visible at the bottom.

    If that’s not clear, email me your blog’s address (my email is on the ‘About…’ page) and I’ll take a look.

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