I am My Data, My Data is Me

I couldn’t help but get caught up in the recent threads about data lock-in. I have become quite a “data-snob” recently which, I’m finding, is quite abnormal for a developer. Developers are all about the code. On one side you have the Mark Pilgrim & Jon Gruber (& Mark’s reply) discussing Apple’s data lock-in problems. On the other side you have Stewart Butterfield’s not-so-positive comments about allowing Flickr to export to Zooomr or Google’s new online Photo Ablums.

Lots of people are making the connection that these different threads have much in common: People use software to store important data; The data belongs to the people, not the software. This is not about Mac vs. Ubuntu or Flickr vs. Google. It’s about users feeling secure that their data won’t rot away in some application’s proprietary file format.

Is it any wonder that people are more at ease storing photographs in a shoebox than on a computer? It’s easy to take the photos out of the shoebox and move them to a photo album, or to a picture frame. How easy it is to move your photos and metadata to newer software? Or your letters, or your finanical information, or your tax returns?

Things are getting better. Microformats, Atom, and a desire for applications (specifically web applications) to interoperate is raising the bar. Even Microsoft Office finally has a relatively open format with full fidelity. Full fidelity is important or else you’ll lose data when you try to convert to another format. Software developers need to realize that the data will live longer than the software and there should be a simple, easy way to access the data without the software. Until then, your data may not be safe.

1 Comment

  1. Gavin Doughtie said,

    July 5, 2006 @ 12:12 am

    Yes! You can keep customers with a great application, but they must always own their own data. Imagine that web-based drawings or photographs exist in some virtual filesystem that a person accesses via a series of sign-ons. I should be able to get at my own photographs whether I’m using Flickr or Picasa or iPhoto or whatever.

    (I wanted to leave this comment on your earlier post, because we’re doing some overlapping efforts. Check out http://www.xdraw.org/ and look at my drawing editor. I’ve been working on a cross-browser API also, for inclusion in the dojo toolkit. Perhaps you would be interested in joining that efffort? Please drop me an email if you’d like to discuss it.)

RSS feed for comments on this post