Quick thoughts on DataLiberation
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this post are mine and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer Mozilla.
I think this is a great first step towards ensuring user freedom in the clouds. As Glyn points out, it definitely raises the bar for other cloud providers.
Having said that, I do want to point out at least one other aspect to ponder when thinking about this announcement.
Personally, I think Data liberation (or data portability as it has been called formerly) applies as much to your data as it does to data about you. One of the big concerns about Google (and a number of other cloud computing players) is the amount of data they have compiled about you – online profiling, if you will. What sites you visit, what you buy, your likes and dislikes, your email – everything is mined, processed and used to improve your web experience (and to serve you ads).
So, while you may be able to liberate your data and move it to a different service, it is unclear what it means with regards to your online profile. I guess you could export your web history, but is that all Google knows about me? In fact, what does Google know about me? A related question that would be good to get clarification on is whether there is an option to permanently delete your data once you’ve exported it.
Another factor to consider is how you define what “your data” is. For example, if you look at it as just exporting your photos out of Picasa and importing them to flickr, I’d posit that’s a rather simplistic view. A large part of what makes your data useful and valuable is all the relationships associated with it. I share my photos with my friends and family, I license some under Creative Commons, I group them, I tag them – all of these make my data very context rich. How do you liberate this context? And if you do, what does it mean to import them elsewhere?
These are hard questions and I’m sure there are several more to ask. But these are the very questions that need to be answered as we move towards the people-centric web (or the you-centric web as some of us like to call it).
I want to conclude by saying I commend Google for acting on this important topic. I personally applaud the folks behind the project as it is not an easy task to go to every product team in your company and say, “hey, let’s make it really easy for our users to stop using this product.” If nothing else it removes any excuse for data lock-in at the very basic levels for the various cloud providers out there.