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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Google’s Data Liberation Site

Google is emphasizing their proclaimed goal to let you easily import and export your Google data when moving services via a new site –*. The mission statement from the Data Liberation Front – named after a Monty Python skit about the Judean People’s Front – is that “Users own the data they store in any of Google’s products. Our team’s goal is to give users greater control by making it easier for them to move data in and out.” Thus the team wants to “make it easier for users to move their data in and out of Google products,” they say.

In a blog post Google clarifies that “a liberated product is one which has built-in features that make it easy (and free) to remove your data from the product in the event that you’d like to take it elsewhere.” When users are locked in, on the other hand, Google says there’s a strong temptation on the product makers side “to be complacent and focus less on making your product better.” Google says they’ve already “liberated” over half of all Google products – like Blogger and Gmail – and in the future want to liberate Google Sites and Google Docs as well.

Any company believing their software can beat competing software when fairly compared does well to push for a fair market, where switching is easy. By releasing export features for their own products they don’t only take away from fears people may have when contemplating a switch to their software. They also create an environment that pushes other companies (like Microsoft in particular) to release export features of their own, helping users leave competing products. That type of environment is a win for users.

Time will tell if Google’s own replacement of the lock-in strategy will become the strategy of heavily cross-connecting its services: for instance, connecting Gmail with Google Docs, Google Calendar with Google Maps, Google search with Blogger, and so on (all things which happen or did happen in the past). Because that too can convince a company to “focus less on making your product better”... as the company can then try switch over their massive user base, if they have one, through the effects the cross-connection comfort brings to users (say you may slightly prefer Acme Docs over Google Docs, but your favorite email client Google Mail just doesn’t offer to open attachments in Acme Docs, so you find sticking with Acme too bothersome to justify its slight advantage). Once we’re truly looking at an OS inside the browser, perhaps we’ll also want a way to liberate our online OS file type associations.

[Thanks DPic and Niniane!]

*I can’t directly access that site from China, as seems to be the case with (several? all? some?) newish domains.


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