After early fame, DataPortability Project matures

Its role includes holding social-networking vendors' feet to the fire regarding data portability

The DataPortability Project tasted early fame in January 2008 when an indignant Robert Scoble joined the group after Facebook canceled the tech celebrity's account for exporting his friends list to Plaxo.

The Scoble incident highlighted the problem of data lock-in among social-networking sites and thrust the young DataPortability Project, quietly created in November 2007, onto center stage.

Soon major vendors like Facebook, MySpace, Microsoft, Yahoo and Google were tripping over each other to sign up as supporters of the group and of data portability: the ability of end-users to own, control, share and re-use the content they put on social networks and social media sites.

Still, the project was in its early stages and had much organizational work to do. IDG News Service caught up with cofounder Chris Saad, who shared the latest accomplishments and plans of the DataPortability Project, which holds its first-ever plenary meeting via conference call on Tuesday.

Projects include the drafting of an end-user licensing agreement (EULA) compliant with data portability principles and standards, and the crafting of a grid to visually chart vendors' data-portability progress -- or lack thereof, according to Saad, who is also vice president of product and community strategy at JS-Kit, a provider of hosted content and online community services.

An edited transcript of the conversation follows.

IDG News Service: Could you give me an update on what has happened with the DataPortability Project in the past year or so?

Chris Saad: When it launched it was a loosely defined project. Since then we've added a lot of real meaty organization to the group. We've got a governance model, an election model, a collaboration model. We're about to register [as] a nonprofit foundation. We have a steering group. This has all been developed in the last six to 12 months, which means the organization's decision-making [process] is transparent, accountable and clear. That has all been very important to make sure whatever recommendations we make to the community are grounded in a real process.

We've also more clearly defined our role in the community. We describe it now as the 'Spread Firefox' of the open distributed social Web. Just like Mozilla has a dedicated project to promote the ideals of an open standards browser, we promote the ideals, people, projects and initiatives that are helping to create an open data ecosystem. We provide context and commentary around that on an ongoing basis through blogs, our Web site and appearances at conferences. We also partner with vendors as they announce things, and we comment about how good or bad or indifferent we are about their particular implementations. We also promote the work of standards groups to a nontechnical audience.

IDGNS: What are some projects the group is working on?

Saad: We're doing a vendor grid, which is a list of vendors and open standards and comments on how that vendor supports that open standard or not, and to what extent. That'll be a grid that executives, or business managers, or competitors, or even consumers can get a look at and just find out how well each of these major vendors is doing at keeping up with open standards [related to data portability].

We're also developing a data portability-compliant EULA, which is going to be essentially a Creative Commons for end-user licenses. So we're putting together a set of legal documents in simple English and represented in symbols so vendors can cut and paste it and use it in their sign-up terms and conditions. Users then can know what to look for, and vendors can make clear declarations of user ownership over their data and data portability.

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