The big news is that representatives from Google, Facebook and Plaxo have joined Dataportability.org, a group setup to develop open standards to enable user data to be moved from one web service to another. Or as Marshall Kirkpratrick put it (over at Read/WriteWeb) "where users can take their data from the websites they use to reuse elsewhere and where vendors can leverage safe cross-site data exchange for a whole new level of innovation."
Call me cynical, but while I welcome this move (data portability and associated user rights is a topic I've long had an interest in), I remain skeptical of how quickly users will actually see real-world benefits from Google and Facebook's membership.
On the other hand, as Kirkpatrick says, the weight of those two companies should help add more momentum and credibility to DataPortability.org. In addition, Google's representative Brad Fitzpatrick has some serious "open standards" pedigree and has previously laid out very ambitious plans to create an open web service to allow users to move their social graph from one social networking site to another.
Back to my skepticism.
Over a year ago, speaking at the Web 2.0 summit, Google CEO Eric Schmidt told attendees:
If you look at the historical large company behavior, they ultimately do things to protect their business practices or monopoly or what have you, against the choice of the users… The more we can, for example, let users move their data around, never trap the data of an end user, let them move it if they don't like us, the better.
Like I said, that was over 12 months ago and I don't remember seeing any significant moves by Google to enable me to move my data elsewhere. It remains, for the most part, as trapped as ever.
Facebook has appeared just as disingenuous, with founder Mark Zuckerberg calling the site's lack of data portability a "bug". Yeah right. It's not a bug but a feature, designed to lock users in long enough for Facebook to reach a dominant enough position. The "bug" can be squashed once Facebook's network effects have created enough lock-in of their own. Maybe that time is near.