I'm not sure whether to call this data portability or just making it easier for social networking services to spam a user's contacts. But either way, Microsoft have announced partnerships with LinkedIn, Tagged, Hi5, Bebo and Facebook, to enable Windows Live Messenger users to looks for contacts on either of the five social networking sites and vice versa.
Creating a "two-way street", as a Microsoft calls it, the partner social networks will utilize the company's recently announced Windows Live Contacts API so that members can import Windows Live contacts to their respective sites. -- and in a return of favor, Microsoft is introducing a new website (www.invite2messenger.net) that people can visit to invite their friends from any of the partner social networks to join their Windows Live Messenger contact list.
Microsoft is keen to point to this announcement as evidence of its new-found commitment to "openness" and data portability:
To tackle the issue of contact data portability it is important to reconcile the larger issue of data ownership. Who owns the data, like email addresses in a Windows Live Hotmail address book? We firmly believe that we are simply stewards of customers’ data and that customers should be able to choose how they control and share their data. We think customers should be able to share their data in the most safe and secure way possible, but historically this openness has been achieved largely through a mechanism called “screen-scraping,” which unduly puts customers at risk for phishing attacks, identity fraud, and spam. Now with the Windows Live Contacts API, we have provided an alternative to “screen-scraping” that is equally open but unequivocally safer and more secure for customers.
However, while it's true that a proper contact exchange API is far better than any screen scraping, for all of the above reasons, and will make it easy for users to find their "friends" on other social networking sites, it's interesting to note that this is very much a reciprocal arrangement. One social network is agreeing to open up its users' contact lists in exchange for a partner (Microsoft) doing the same. That seems a far cry from true and open data portability to me.