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.