Google and Facebook join data-sharing alliance

The DataPortability alliance promises to enable easier identity and data management across various social-networking platforms
Written by Caroline McCarthy and  David Meyer on

Google and Facebook have signed up to an alliance, DataPortability, which aims to unify identity and data management across various social-networking platforms.

According to its website, DataPortability exists "to put all existing technologies and initiatives in context to create a reference design for end-to-end data portability [and] to promote that design to the developer, vendor and end-user community". Other organisations that have signed up include the social-networking sites LinkedIn and Plaxo.

"As users, our identity, photos, videos and other forms of personal data should be discoverable by, and shared between, our chosen tools or vendors," reads the founding "philosophy" on DataPortability's website. "We need a DHCP [a protocol used in IP networking] for identity. A distributed file system for data. The technologies already exist, we simply need a complete reference design to put the pieces together."

The advent of the DataPortability group has generated enthusiasm among the blogging community. According to ReadWriteWeb's Marshall Kirkpatrick: "If these industry titans can put aside their rivalry and work together, magic could happen." TechCrunch's Duncan Riley wrote that "this day will be remembered" and that "by joining... Facebook is embracing open standards and open access, and that is a huge fundamental change from its previous stance on being locked in to closed standards".

DataPortability, which is spearheaded by Chris Saad of start-up Faraday Media, hopes to bridge one social media site to another, using existing technologies like OpenID and RSS. However, there have already been clashes between some members of the group over the issue of data portability, notably between Facebook and Plaxo.

Last week, popular blogger Robert Scoble — himself a DataPortability member — was banned from Facebook for using an automated script, from rival site Plaxo, to export his contacts' emails and other personal data from Facebook to Plaxo. His account was only reinstated after he agreed to stop using the tool.

"The goal with DataPortability is to sort of look at the Scoble incident as... a canary in the mine," Saad said in an interview with ZDNet.co.uk's sister site, CNET News.com. "Users are going to want to do this more and more."

Google, meanwhile, has its own initiative, known as OpenSocial, to make applications and widgets compatible among participating social networks, but that programme does not yet include a plan for data sharing between different services.

Additionally, levels of official affiliation in DataPortability vary, meaning that a representative may enthusiastically agree upon a social-networking standard only to present it to a boss who balks at the idea. Facebook confirmed that it considers Benjamin Ling to be its official liaison to the alliance and Joseph Smarr is representing Plaxo.

Google, represented in DataPortability by LiveJournal creator and OpenSocial guru Brad Fitzpatrick, was not available for comment. But Saad said many of the other members of DataPortability, who come from companies like Yahoo, Six Apart, and MySpace.com, are "more likely to be personally interested rather than company representatives".


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