Data portability finally gets attention

Vox Logo

Another technology company VOX announced last week that they are closing down their blogging platform and leaving their users without a home for their content on the 30th September 2010. Unlike a number of recent closures Vox appear to have been proactive in providing solutions to help users migrate unlike most other platforms that just close taking the content with them. The VOX announcement was sent out via email and a visit to their site showed the same message with details on how the platform will be closing in stages and what VOX users should be doing if they want to keep all the content they have built up over the years.  To get around the issue of not building data portability into their platform VOX has added new export features for their platform.  The VOX content export features allow their users to easily move blog articles from Vox to TypePad and their photo & videos to Flickr it seems some of the other platforms like WordPress & Posterous have some technical limitations so you should read their guidelines.
Vox closing time frame
2nd September – no longer accepting new user registrations
15th September  - no longer be able to create new posts on Vox or upload new photos or videos
30th September – your blog will no longer be available at Vox.com
Vox has done the right thing by their users by making it free and easy as possible to transition their data off Vox to other platforms such as:

The trend has seen very few companies take control of the migration like VOX did and this data portability issue is one of the hidden costs when moving your information onto the cloud.  Sometimes there is not much that the users can do about it because besides the service being free, often hidden within the terms and conditions is that you might not be the true owner of your data and the company providing the service has limited responsibility for your data.

The issue around the issue of cloud hosted data and a companies responsibilities to secure and back it up covered in my previous interview with David Coallier.  The second part of this post seeks to explore the companies that just close down the product not allowing consumers to export it or sell off their data to the highest bidder. After all think how much market research firms would pay Facebook for your personal or business data on an open market.  When a company is bought out, goes bankrupt or is closed down what happens with all that data?

This issue has raised its head several times in 2009 and also in 2010 as the failing economy broke many web 2.0 properties business models, who didn’t build in the ability to make more money than they were spending via advertising or licensing deals. The issue of closed ventures and failed projects, was not unique to small start-ups but reached right up the food chain to shake the shareholders of Google, Yahoo and Microsoft who announced the closure of several hosted products leaving their existing users out in the cold. Obviously most companies don’t build a product with aims to shut it down but the problem is that without data portability built into the platform your consumers can’t export their data and continue to use it on another platform.

Exporting and downloading data doesn’t provide much benefit to consumers as how do they deal with sharing and visualising it?  Most exported data will just sit on the users hard-drive until sometime in the future where a new platform can import it or it finally just gets deleted.  As more platforms continue to build unique platforms with proprietary database architecture and they continue to amass data some steps need to be taken to ensure they look at some more open sourced solutions or APIs for data.  As remember when your free web 2.0 product no longer suits their business model or they get bored the platform can be turned off at anytime leaving you stranded.

Bloglines LogoAsk announced they will also be shutting their RSS platform Bloglines on the 1st of October due to the strength of Twitter & Facebook for dominating real-time information.  It’s interesting that some of the more basic functions are starting to feel the impact of social media on how people consumer information and Bloglines will be the first of many who will be closing up shop.  They are offering a 3 week period to export your feeds to another service with a simple 4 step process:

  1. click on the feeds tab
  2. scroll past your feeds to the bottom pane
  3. Click on “Export Subscriptions”
  4. Save the file to a selected folder

Jumpcut LogoYahoo has always been a great company for finding wonderful platforms, buying them and partially integrating them before sitting on them while they wait for them to die.  Yahoo had acquired video software platform JumpCut in 2006, and had promoted the product as a way to offer Yahoo users the ability to edit video clips in their web browser without requirements for expensive editing software or hardware. Yahoo further sweetened the JumpCut deal by offering to host these videos once the editing was complete which also tied users into the hosted product.  Yahoo announced the death of JumpCut in April 2009 leaving thousands of clips in limbo which would be deleted at some time in the future.

Dodgeball LogoGoogle has had a bad run at buying startups lately and also later choosing to close them down often it seems more for the purpose of competitive reasons than a product limitation or lack of interest. Google closed down several services this year, many of which they had actually purchased only to shut down. One of the side benefits of them buying Dodgeball was that the founders then had the resources to start 4Square. Since Google shut down Dodgeball there was no real competition for 4Square and they have successfully captured a majority of the real-time application market so will Google try and buy them in the future and start the process again?

Google acquired video compression company On2 last year, another platform Flix Cloud that developed the original encoding technology used by On2 but announced last month that they are shutting down the Flix Cloud LogoFlix Cloud platform.  Google stopped accepting new customers in August 2010 and has been encouraging Flix Cloud users to move the Zencoder.  It appears that Google has been proactive to offering an improved platform for Flix Cloud users but it’s not clear if they are assisting with APIs to speed the transfer.

Deep Metrix LogoMicrosoft closed down its web analytics solution based on Deepmetrix which they purchased in 2007? The problem is that most hosted web analytics solutions like Google Analytics or Yahoo Web Analytics don’t allow for external data to be imported into the accounts so once the final reports were generated the data will be lost now that all the accounts have finally been closed. If their users had of moved to Coremetrics or Omniture they have the ability to import external data but many businesses don’t have the resources to support these web analytics products. This is the problem when using many beta analytics products is that there is no guarantee that it will be there in the future so data can be exported to reports or excel spreadsheets but mostly the functionality and benefit will die with the platform.

Tr.im LogoTr.im was one of the hundreds of URL shorteners, Tr.im was one of the better known services, but they shocked users when they announced Tr.im could no longer support their service in light of Bit.ly’s increasing strangle hold on the market. The launch of Twitter’s own url shorting service T.co this year has shaken up the market once again, but the slight difference is that the Twitter URL shortening platform is more of a URL wrapper for the Twitter platform than a general platform like Tr.im or Bitly.
Spiral Frog LogoOne of the biggest wake up calls to data ownership was the death of the DRM music service SpiralFrog in March 2009. The problem was caused when parties inside the company had sold user e-mail addresses to third-party companies prior to the hand over to creditors. This type of action was against the websites original terms & conditions and is a great way to lose people’s trust in web 2.0 companies. Some of the bigger issues revolved around the DRM system used by the company that required renewals via the website every 60 days which is technically impossible if the website shuts down. This process means that people who had rightfully purchased music via the service will no longer have ownership of the data.

Open Social LogoData ownership is going to be an increasing issue for users and websites and many services build unique databases platforms using proprietary systems or data storage techniques. Search Engine Journal covered how to back up and export your social media data to protect yourself from either data loss or in case the hosting platform decides they want to change their terms of service.  If Facebook decided to close its photo album feature down what would happen to the petrabytes of data they have stored? While open protocols are great they also should be two-way process as many systems allow for only importing or exporting data and we already discovered that Facebook censors what you share so consider what your options are such as Social Safe.  Social Safe is a third-party Facebook backup solution, but even that doesn’t solve the whole issue as it doesn’t let you restore your service just back it up.  It does solve part of the issue as it offers a platform which you can view and interact with your data once it’s exported but it would be great if it could export your data into a platform like Open Social.

Hot Potato LogoFacebook shuts down social service Hot Potato, but they offer the ability for existing users to download their information/history from the site, but what benefit is that unless a new platform can import that data. It is purchases like this that are of the most concern when it comes to data portability or ownership of data as this company was purchase to reduce competition in the market or for scrap parts to build more functionality into their existing products like Facebook Places or Facebook events.

iMafiaiTunes games & applications also have the same issue with data portability as I recently discovered when I tried to open one of my gaming apps “iMafia” that I had been playing for quite sometime.  The game partially opened before a message popped up that “this game was no longer supported”, which I clicked ok and assumed that it meant no more updates or features would be rolled out, but no the game was essentially bricked.  All the time I had spent playing the game, building up my mafia and had even considered buying some credits to speed the progress of my character.  The issue of wiping out all my game data and killing the functionality of the game makes me quite mad as I would have never bothered with the game if I had of known when the developer got bored they would just close down the game and move on.  This is a potential problem with cloud hosted software and possibly every single App in the iTunes store that even if you have purchased the software at some time in the future expect to be thrown out in the cold.

I see this is a combination of data portability, limitations of cloud based software and generally a disregard for those who use the platform as it was intended. So in 2011 maybe it’s the year that more open standards are established for some of the key problem areas such as social media and web analytics that makes data ownership more transparent and more angry iTunes users.

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4 comments

  1. Thank you for mentioning our product SocialSafe. The point you make that “Exporting and downloading data doesn’t provide much benefit to consumers as how do they deal with sharing and visualising it?” is exactly why SocialSafe has a built in viewer for your data. This viewer will be dramatically improved when we launch V2 in September 2002, giving you a fully featured diary functionality making it easy to see what you did on any day. We do intend to update SocialSafe to include other social sites such as Twitter and others and we will also in time integrate with a new product DAD, http://www.dadapp.com, produced by our parent company. DAD will go a long way to helping achieve data portability on the desktop and with links such as SocialSafe to the web too.

    • David says:

      Julian,

      Thank you for the comment I’m pleased to see that companies are looking at ways of visualising the data once its exported, I am surprised that no-one else has really managed to get their head around the value of being able to view and possible interact with that data. The DAD product is interesting as its a downloadable application as that is the other issue with any platform if you don’t have an internet connection you are cut off from the ability to upload or download data, so having it stored locally is a comforting feeling.

      David

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