Standardized Data Portability is the Next Great Frontier for the Web

There are some new ideas being put forth today, challenging all previous assumptions that websites with community generated content own that content – even though it was their users that created it. At Spock, we strongly believe that data should be free and allowed to move from one destination to the next without limit.

The reason I create data on Spock is because it’s useful to me to be able to organize people and show the world a public compilation of myself. I want to be able to do anything I want with that data though, like being able to show that data on Facebook, or exporting all of my trusted contacts on Spock to my preferred email system. You’ll notice that Spock has an API just for this reason – and we’ve had an API ever since day one of private beta. Your data isn’t locked behind a firewall here – our API is easy-to-use and reliable, so you can conveniently access your data whenever you want – and do whatever you want with it.

We understand that you have too many usernames, too many passwords, and data spread out on too many servers: photos on Flickr, videos on YouTube, groups in Google, colleagues on LinkedIn and friends in Facebook. We’re trying to help. We’re working towards allowing you to import contacts in as many different formats as possible: CSV, e-mail address book, social network friends, vCards, and more. We will then allow you to export all your contacts – from so many different sources, in so many different formats – in whatever format you want. Wouldn’t it be nice to have all your Facebook friends’ email addresses in your Outlook address book? Wouldn’t you like connect with your Yelp friends on LinkedIn?Spock is working towards this, for you.

Here’s a summary of some of the other projects we have planned to make consolidating your data safe, secure, and painless. (Projects are in various stages of completion)

  • Aggregating your contacts from all sources into whatever contact management application you want to use
  • Find where your contacts are on the web – blogs, social networks, biographies, etc.
  • Aggregate your, and your contacts’, “Status” (like Twitter, Facebook, etc.) from all the “Status” systems you belong to, and export this aggregation via RSS or Atom feed
  • Allow you to post a status update from a single application to all the systems you want
  • Enable you to search all of the social graphs at once, in one place
  • Connecting with any of your contacts on any social network – “friending” them on Facebook, “connecting” with them on LinkedIn, etc. from just one place

Some of these features are yet to be even started; not because they are not important to us, but because we are waiting for an established standardization model to be set. We suspect that we will be using OpenID for user authentication, oAuth for API authentication, RSS for feed exportation, and FOAF for relationship definitions, as these seem to be the emerging leaders. However, all of these “standards” are relatively new and radical, so we are waiting to see if they will be adopted by the average user – not just those deeply involved in the tech community.

We strongly believe that data portability is the solution to a major problem of information overload and fragmentation. Data portability is a way to achieve greater simplicity within your life, especially if you are too busy or stressed out to hassle with sites that lock down the information you should have free access to move around! We are working so hard to make sure we can support it using open standards.

Our latest action has been joining the data portability action group to make sure we can work with the community to develop standards and make this happen within Spock and the tech ecosystem. Please work with us and let us know any thoughts or suggestions you have for us on this issue.

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