The many faces of Data Portability

Lately, there are no shortage of opinions on what data portability is and isn’t, here are some of the more notable posts.

The real roadblocks to data portability on social networks by Robert Scoble
Robert is approaching it from the end user perspective, especially for someone like him who is active on several social networks like Flickr, YouTube, Facebook, MySpace, Orkut,, FriendFeed, SocialThing, Profilactic,, Twitter, Pownce,, Disqus, and many more. He raised a number of use cases that aren’t currently possible like changing his main email and having the change propagate to all his social networks, etc.

In his words…
Doing the simplest of data portability (for instance, making all systems understand when I changed my email address) is going to take a lot of work and a lot of cooperation between all of the players). Doing the toughest stuff (like sharing of some of the social graph, or making things like photos and videos portable) will take a lot longer. I’d be surprised if we see some real movement on data portability between a good number of systems by the end of the year.

A Journey of a Thousand Steps by Brian Oberkirch
Brian does not believe that the future of data portability comes from globalized, generic, manifesto-driven approaches but rather small nimble startups like Dopplr and Ma.gnolia that implement focused changes allowing for some level of data portability / interoperability across sites. He also thinks that data portability will be driven by data portability needs arising from limitations of using existing popular social sites.

FriendFeed, The Centralized Me, and Data Portability by Michael Arringtion of TechCrunch
Michael sees friendfeed as a “Centralized Me” site meaning a user can centralize all his information from other sites on friendfeed site. This as opposed to DataPortability that embraces the “Decentralized Me” approach, in essence letting users re-centralize it wherever they please. DataPortability is working to help make that happen through consensus driven policies and procedures. He wonders if DataPortability is the anti-friendfeed.

What have you done for me lately? by Chris Saad ( founder)
Disclosure: I am a recent participant on the DataPortability project.
Chris addressed a question that often arises with DataPortability project, “What have you guys actually done?” For example, Scoble asked “Has the actually shipped anything yet beyond PR?” Chris outlined the roadmap and stated that 2 of the 5 planned phases have been completed and that they are currently in research phase. The research phase is where they are speaking to each standard community about their relevant technologies and contributions to understand how they might fit into any future best practice document or documents.

My perspective (as if you need another one LOL but here it is anyway)
As someone who has worked in big companies before, the current approach (per Chris’s post) is reminiscent of the waterfall development lifecycle approach with a top-down, detailed upfront analysis to understand the comprehensive needs of everyone (social networks, healthcare, financial, government, etc) with regards to data portability and then putting a plan / blueprint / standards together. While this is noble being all inclusive upfront, IMO this is a daunting task (if you have done waterfall before, you know what I mean), not to mention that requirements changes over time – it always has been the case, we just hoped that it doesn’t. In particular, I think that documenting standards can be done in parallel with research. For standards, I suggest starting with a known entity, i.e., social networking, and subsequently amend and / or add new standards for other verticals like healthcare, etc. This allows for deliverables that are actionable by non-dataportability participants that are keenly interested in knowing how dataportability standards might apply to them.

Overall thoughts
Each post has a different perspective on data portability because it means different things to different people but I consider them all relevant to the discussion of data portability. Is there a right or wrong answer? I don’t think so but it sure is exciting to see what evolves over time and what works and doesn’t work. Regardless, it’s paramount to keep the end user in mind while thinking about data portability because ultimately they will decide what stays and what goes.

6 Responses to “The many faces of Data Portability”

  1. 1 Phillip Rhodes April 1, 2008 at 5:12 am

    I love what Data Portability dot Org is doing, but at the same time, I agree about the sense that the group may be taking something of a waterfall approach. It may be too early to say that yet though, as one of the big early pushes seems to be simply nailing down important use cases. That’s certainly a reasonable starting point, as long as the goal isn’t to nail down *every* (or even most) meaningful use cases.

    What we’re probably going to do at OpenQabal is take (somewhat) of a “implement it and see if it sticks” approach as we move forward. That is, we’ll isolate a use case we care about, implement it using existing standards (and certainly paying attention to the current status of an relevant documents, etc.) and put it out there for people to use. In turn, if something we put out succeeds or fails, that knowledge can feed back into our participation in the effort, where it can be leveraged (if so desired).

    To given an example of something we’re planning to work on sooner than later, is the ability to exchange “address book” information with Beatnik using FOAF.

    Will it work? If it does, will it catch on? How will we deal with privacy and security issues… TBD. 🙂

  2. 2 bngu April 1, 2008 at 6:07 am

    I like your approach for OpenQabal, putting it out there is the quickest way to find out what does and doesn’t work, can you tell that I am a big fan of agile development? =) Sounds like you are a good candidate for the proposed projects idea (still being finalized), you should check it out.

  3. 3 Phillip Rhodes April 2, 2008 at 4:28 am

    Yeah, the “agile development” approach is pretty much what I have in mind. That said, I like to be careful using that term, because some people use “agile” as a synonym for “hack and slash” when it’s really not.

    There’s nothing wrong with doing design and analysis up-front.. it’s just that I favor what I like to call SDUF – “sufficient design up front” (or “simple design up front” as I’ve heard it said) instead of BDUF – “Big Design Up Front.”

  4. 4 Bob Ngu April 2, 2008 at 4:44 am

    Yep, we are on the same page.

  1. 1 More on expectations for « foldier’s blog Trackback on April 1, 2008 at 5:39 am
  2. 2 Doing the right thing vs. doing the things that matter to users « Ungeek DaPo Trackback on April 19, 2008 at 5:38 pm

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