The explosion of web applications has been one of the defining features of recent times on the web. Bebo, Facebook, Linkdin, Last.fm and many others have built large communities holding vast amounts of data. There are immensely useful to users and also advertisers who can pinpoint users based on their personal data.
The classic revenue model for a web application is that in exchange for using the application the application owner should be able to use personal data to serve relevant adverts. On last.fm for example this might be tickets to music that you frequently listen to. This is a condition of using the site. For many sites they also state that they own your data. This for me is a step to far and is untenable with the likely future of the web.
At dataportability.org there is a growing community who want to be able to make their data shareable and discoverable wherever it is on the web. The technologies already exist - we just need to define how they are used. More and more sites are joining this movement which should be good news for user data, although I suspect that lawyers will need to become involved to really sort this out.
An example of an issue with the current model is the question of moving data. Let’s say I wish to move data from Facebook to Plaxo. Robert Scroble was enterprising enough to write a script to do this and was promptly banned from Facebook.
Applications consume, interpret and manipulate data. They are not the data. The reaction of Facebook is understandable but if this is to be the future of web applications then we are facing a very bleak outlook.
In my opinion my data on web applications is mine. I should be able to do what I want with it - share it, move it, export it, delete it. Users must be able to determine the success or otherwise of applications by voting with their feet. Denying users the ability to move their data is anti-competitive and inexcusable. The web makes it very easy to share data. Large web applications know this and I hope will commit to the ability to share data. For strong players in the market it is should not be something to be feared. It will make it easier for them to acquire customers from other players.
As if that isn’t enough to think about I haven’t even mentioned what this means for privacy!
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