Home > Archive >  2008 >  May >  26

How to do data portability

Monday, May 26, 2008 by Dave Winer.

A picture named tramp.jpgI've heard a lot about data portability conferences and workshops, I've even been criticized for not going to one which happened on the west coast while I was in the east earlier this month. I don't plan to go to any of them, I don't see what's accomplished by having public meetings about this stuff. People who control users' data can accomplish a lot more by finding ways to give them the power to use it more effectively. Talking about principles of data portability only achieves talk. It gives people a sense of propriety over talking, not data, and people giving up propriety over talking are just yielding the floor, not yielding any power over users. Permalink to this paragraph

The best way to achieve data portability is to just do it.  Permalink to this paragraph

I know that sounds silly, or obvious, but there is so much pretending that there's more to it, that it has to be said.  Permalink to this paragraph

If you want to accomplish something by talking, call up a friend who works at Netflix or Yahoo and ask them if they'll let users move around their movie rating data. I've been asking about this for years. No one's email addresses are involved. All I want is the power to give Netflix permission to read an XML file on yahoo.com that contains my movie rating data (assuming Yahoo goes first). Anyone can see how much power this would give Yahoo. Why don't they do it? I honestly don't know. If I were them, I would.  Permalink to this paragraph

Another example -- if Twitter wanted to buy itself some time and growth, and give developers something exciting to do, they would store as much user profile data as they can off twitter.com servers and on Amazon. Simple XML formats, use some of their ability to raise investment capital (which they have proven) to grow the human network while they patch up or rewrite their system software. The more data they can move off their outage-prone systems, the more the network can grow around them, but not dependent on them. Amazon has proven they can keep their servers running. Leverage that. Permalink to this paragraph

A picture named tr.jpgThe discussion about data portability so far has fixed on the hardest most vexing technical, privacy and economic issues, the ones that probably don't have a resolution. My advice is to instead pick a few relatively easy data portability problems and solve them. Flying around the world to go to conferences to talk about the hardest problems won't actually achieve any data portability. Permalink to this paragraph

Update: Brad Feld argues for APIs. A few months ago I would have agreed, but today I don't think an API is enough. As we've seen with Twitter, when the service goes down, there is no API and there is 100 percent lock-in. We need more. The most vital data must be stored off-site, so it doesn't go away when the service goes down.  Permalink to this paragraph


Recent stories:

A picture named dave.jpgDave Winer, 53, pioneered the development of weblogs, syndication (RSS), podcasting, outlining, and web content management software; former contributing editor at Wired Magazine, research fellow at Harvard Law School, entrepreneur, and investor in web media companies. A native New Yorker, he received a Master's in Computer Science from the University of Wisconsin, a Bachelor's in Mathematics from Tulane University and currently lives in Berkeley, California.

"The protoblogger." - NY Times.

"The father of modern-day content distribution." - PC World.

One of BusinessWeek's 25 Most Influential People on the Web.

"Helped popularize blogging, podcasting and RSS." - Time.

"The father of blogging and RSS." - BBC.

"RSS was born in 1997 out of the confluence of Dave Winer's 'Really Simple Syndication' technology, used to push out blog updates, and Netscape's 'Rich Site Summary', which allowed users to create custom Netscape home pages with regularly updated data flows." - Tim O'Reilly.

Dave Winer Mailto icon

My most recent trivia on Twitter.

I'm a California voter for Obama.

© Copyright 1994-2008 Dave Winer Mailto icon.

Last update: 10/20/2008; 8:22:33 AM Pacific. "It's even worse than it appears."

Click here to view blogs commenting on  RSS 2.0 feed.