Fudge Sunday - Data Portability

by Jay Cuthrell
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Start the week more informedThis week we look at the world of data portability from 2005 to present. Along the way, we’ll examine how long it can take for the impact of data gravity to be felt in the consumer, commercial, and Enterprise markets.

Last week: “the ibles and the ables”

Possible, Permissible, Sustainable, Repeatable, AdvisablePossible, Permissible, Sustainable, Repeatable, Advisable

Last week we took a look at the elements of a great product from ideation to market adoption.


And now… Data Portability 2005 to present

What is data portability? Simply stated, data portability is the means of ensuring that data within a service is not prevented from extraction and reuse independently or with another service.

In practice, a simple example might be unstructured data such as a photo service allowing one to download all the individual’s photos associated with that service. In effect, an individual can extract what was placed into a service.

For a complex example, imagine a social photo sharing service. In this more complex example, data portability might mean access to similarly unstructured data such as the complete timeline of various photo artifacts in a raw format, social updates or comments relating to those artifacts, and related records relating to the metadata for those artifacts in a variety of open formats (json, html, tgz, zip, or similar archives) that are structured so as to be both accessible and more accessed independently with generally available software or for import to another service.

2005 - I’ve got your contact exclusively

Let’s imagine that by 2005 you were a regular user of various online services and had a career of around 10 years. By 2005, that career might have meant around 10,000 contacts.

At that time, Plaxo was one of the more popular services for maintaining contacts online. Also, LinkedIn had emerged as a useful way to connect those contacts and the relationships that flow from them.

To be fair, one could crudely export from Plaxo to LinkedIn in 2005 — but not the other way around. Also, another challenge in these blitzscaling days was how to avoid putting anyone with a privacy concern into LinkedIn or Plaxo in the first place.

Looking back at the history of data breaches, it’s clear that these were the days when snail mail pamphlets and emails with subject lines such as “We Care About Your Privacy” detailed how financial service groups might sell or protect your privacy and personal information. So, for all the fanfare of the consumer SaaS market of the time, it wasn’t always clear how to get out of one service or if that data was truly being scrubbed in the process with a disclosed data destruction policy.

2006: “Take your data and run”

During a Web 2.0 conference, Google becomes the first major service to speak in limited terms about data portability in regard to search history in what was more likely a nod towards potentially being viewed as a walled garden or monopoly.


2010 - I’ve got a cloud full of data

By 2010, there are clear trends emerging in the consumer web services market. Social networks spring to life, gather address books from mobile devices, and blitzscaling patterns.

Also, by 2010, cloud computing is growing at geometric rates – and in some ways following some of the same patterns of the early winners in consumer web services.

By 2014, some of these blitzscaling patterns have become more obvious and dubious. The popular press takes note in the US but it will take a few more years before the dreaded term “regulation” appears on the horizon.

2010: “Standards for cloud computing”

Vint Cerf calls out the lack of standards for cloud computing just a few years after AWS launches.


2014: “Data privacy is a luxury good”

The New York Times asks if the rise in social networks with free services that trade in the data of users is a fad or a trend built to last.


2015 - I’ve got more ways to see more data

By 2015, there are rumblings of terms like privacy and social networks in more popular coverage. Data breaches are more commonly covered in the news as well.

As currents in the regulatory space swirl in Europe, the US and the rest of the world are still growth areas for online services. Soon, a wind of change with arrive in the form of General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

2016: “GPDR has entered the chat…”

The times they are a changing but change is hard.


2018: “We too wish to comply”

Launched in 2018 by [sarcasm] complete and total coincidence [/sarcasm], The Data Transfer Project represented an open platform for moving user data between services.


2020 - I’ve got several ways to takeout my data

By 2020, a lot has happened in the wake of GDPR. It seems as though a user of the web cannot reach a once familiar website without confirmation of cookies and agreeing to click “OK”.

In addition, within the US states explore or implement their own standards such as California Consumer Privacy Act. Keeping up becomes harder to do and, perhaps, favors the well funded and already established services.

2020: “Anti-Hotel California for data”

Coverage of the challenges companies faced to comply with GDPR and CCPA highlights that shortcuts to attain compliance might have unintended consequences contrary to the regulatory goals.


2021 and the present - Your data is clicks away

It’s far to say that as of 2021, most services that launch will have a harder time with adopting some of these blitzscaling patterns used by the most successful established services in operation today. Indeed, regulation is a variety of moat too.

Regulatory moats might prevent new services from launching by limiting the blitzscaling patterns but the new services will launch. However, it’s less clear how mergers and acquisitions might impact the longer term viability of new services.

Oh, and in completely unrelated news…

2021: “We 100% planned this all along”

Facebook now offers updated tool as part of the Data Transfer Project but pay no attention to the other items in the news that clearly have no direct correlation…


2021: “US Govt has entered the chat…”

Antitrust bills include references to data portability


One last thing…

If the consumer web user data portability was a big deal… just wait until the cloud data portability discussions around multi-cloud get into gear in the near future. Just like the silo of user data, the silo of enterprise data will be increasingly challenged as short sighted, limiting, and even anti-competitive in the coming days, weeks, months, and years.

Strategy: Avoiding a Data Silo

A Data Silo is a collection of data not accessible to all groups and oftentimes isolated from the rest of the organization. Read more for proven ways to remove data silos from your business.



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