DataPortability and the Web Worker


DataPorbaility LogoThere has been a lot of buzz lately around the term data portability.  Recently web heavyweights such as Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Plaxo, and other online identity providers have been joining the organization, but it’s unclear to most people what Data Portability is all about.  This video seeks to explain the concept in layman’s terms.  We encourage you to spread this video to your web working colleagues because of all the potential benefits data portability provides.

We’ve told you before about the pluses of having an online persona.  I’m sure many of you want to have online personas, but the time involved might be too daunting.  For example, who has time to keep Facebook, MySpace, Plaxo, and Twitter up to date; and have any time to actually get project work done?  To keep these services relevant to your professional life, they must be kept up to date.  This is where data portability comes in to the equation.

Practically, what does data portability do?

The short answer is that having data portability will enable web workers to manage their online identities across multiple services much more easily.  Imagine being able to:

  • export your friends contact data out of MySpace and import them into Facebook.
  • If you get a new phone number, being able to update it one place and having that change transfer to multiple online services such as Plaxo, MySpace, and WordPress.
  • Easily migrate your blog from WordPress to MoveableType
  • Update your status once, rather than in Facebook, Twitter, Jaiku, and others.

Great, but just one thing…

This might raise a red flag for those of us who use the web for earning a living and keeping up to date with our social circles.  That is the question of privacy.  Perhaps we don’t want our business contact knowing which bar we were at last night with our friends.  Just ask the small town mayor who is in hot water because of questionable pictures on MySpace or the intern who lost his job because he played hookie from work.

The DataPortability Group is addressing this issue of privacy.  A likely workaround is creating groups that will allow you to segregate which information flows to which segment of your contacts and applications.  This way, you can classify contacts into ‘friends’ and ‘business contacts’ and ensure information and updates flow to the correct segment of your contact group.

Whose data is it anyways?
Walled Gaden
The problem data portability aims to solve is this segmentation of the web, also known as the ‘walled garden‘.  Web users are revolting to the idea of the walled garden even though when they sign up for these services, the user agreement clearly states that your data is essentially the service provider’s property.  That is, when you upload your photos on Facebook, your image is data about you that happens now to belong to Facebook.  So unfortunately, if you get fed up with Facebook and decide to move to MySpace, unless you are willing to spend a lot of time extracting photos and contact details out one by one, you’re bound to lose loads of personal data.

Rest assured, the Data Portability Group all about fixing this issue.  In the meantime, we caution you to beware of the rights you’re signing over when you submit your personal data to the latest Web 2.0 wonder-site!



There is another way I will tackle the issue of making people embrace the idea of data portability. Lemme give an example and explain why data portability is important.

Letz say I regularly hang out in a bar with my friends. Letz say I also make a few friends in that bar. After some time, I want to go to another bar with my friends just for the heck of it or because the bartender in that bar had spit on my booze. If the bar manager says that I can only socialize with my friends in his bar and not take them with me to another bar, does it sound reasonable? Hell no. As long as my friends don’t mind me taking them to another bar, I have every right to take them along. Bar manager or, for that matter, government cannot tell me how and where I should socialize with my friends.

Data Portability in the case of social networks is also analogous to the above example. Facebook or any other social network cannot tell me that I cannot take my friends with me when I leave their social network. Only my friends can tell me if they want to come along or not. The social networks should allow me to take my data with me and also offer my friends a mechanism to say whether they want to come with me or not. As simple as that.


I have resisted creating a profile on all the social networking sites because it just seems like too much work, especially for those of us that take the time to create our own blogs. This is a new development that I am personally very excited about, please keep us up to date Jason.


@hands-on generalist:
I agree with your comments. I feel as a standard, they should keep the only required information that is shared is the user’s Global ID (Open-ID), and e-mail address, and maybe a key to access that information. I always hate all these sites they get users to share their passwords to the account so that they can use the applications API to access and fetch this information. Then what ever site is hosting the Open-ID or global user information, should allow the user to choose which profile (application sites) to allow certain fields of data too share. This concepts allows the user to share what they want, where they want.

When it comes to privacy on the net the main point is don’t share any information you are not willing to let anyone see, no matter where it is or how safe it is. But how we share that information is something that these concepts can allow to be done much easily.

For instance I wished I could spread my comments from this site to your linked article on your blog. There is already too many linked articles and comments that are going to waste without a shared system like Eric Atkins (above) was talking about.

hands-on generalist

oh by the way, webworkerdaily, I find the comments text box a bit smallish (I’m too verbose, more likely ;), and where is the option to edit my post in case I muck up the <em> tags?

hands-on generalist

Eric Atkins, you have a point. You feed data about you (your thoughts and comments) into applications (forums, blogs, social webs), and lose ownership immediately. Re-use and control are out of the window the moment you feed data into an application.

The more I learn about DataPortability, the more warped
the concept seems to me. About the walled garden: You should
indeed not be forced to fork your data over to the many
application providers and then be at their mercy. The ability to
migrate your (?) data from one application to another is just
spreading the problem to different ‘gardens’. I was expecting a
total different sort of initiative altogether, one that seems
much more logical (at least to me).

In my view, your data should just be your data (about you),
molded in your own fashion and stored on a provider of your
choice; no application is involved at this point, it’s just a
generic data store, so that’s pretty useless by itself (Oh
really?). However, once there is a generic way to precisely
address and disclose bits of your data to other
identities (such as your friends or application providers), things will happen.
Application providers which are allowed to read your data can provide fun and meaningful ways to interact with your data, and that of others. They don’t own it, they just fetch it when needed,
like you fetch a web page when you need it. (They could cache it,
but if its dynamic data, that’s of no use. Moreover, why cache if
you can fetch anytime again and again whenever they need?).

So, my ideal world view is a bit different, I suppose. My data is
designed and stored the way I want it. I can disclose bits of it
to application providers and other people.

To get there, things need to be built that do not exist yet, but
they are founded on top of well-known concepts. Addressable
resources (like are
feasible. (maybe it wouldn’t be http but something else). Semantic agreement and disclosure (or not) on a property by
property basis between two identities is sort of new, but there’s
a lot of stuff out there that could be used.

In this situation, applications would use your data, for as
long as you see fit. You retain control over the data that
describes you.

Please read more of my thoughts on
and help create a user centric system instead of the application
centric DataPortability. It has every concept exactly the wrong
way around.

Eric Atkins

Imagine being able to look at every comment that you’ve left on a blog or forum. Why can’t you have an online tool that shows you the comments you have made (regardless if you actually own that data or not).

I think it would be a powerful way to connect your past online web presence with your current web presence.

So much of Web 2.0 is focused on the _now_ and the _future_. But…

What if we could extend Web 2.0 into the past?

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