The most well known, yet still problematic, area of data ownership in our web-based world is all the data we keep housed "in the cloud" in the machines of the services we use every day.
- The contents of your blog at Tumblr
- The documents your company shares on Google Drive
- Your to-do list at Nozbe or Remember the Milk
- The music you've bought and listen to at Amazon
- All your family photos kept safely (you hope) on Flickr
All of these services hold the information that is important to you, that you depend on, in many cases defines a large part of who you are (your writings, your photos, your musical tastes). How often do you plan for these services having a major outage? Or vanishing entirely and forever? Or suffering some kind of terrible data loss?
What if you just decide they aren't the right fit, and you want to take your business (and your data) elsewhere? Do you have that option? Is it a painful option, if it even exists?
Most of us, even the technical among us, don't think about this at all.
Many have been pushing for this, both from the outside and inside of the organizations we depend on, and we have them to thank for the cloud data we can exercise some moderate feeling of ownership over. The victories are as varied as they are rare, unfortunately.
- We still depend on DRM servers to verify we're allowed to watch movies we own
- Our GMail accounts can be fetched locally, but only as an implementation of IMAP, not an explicit export option
- My to-do list can be synced by third party tools, but they're banned from the service if they provide any new features on that data. Do I really own my to-do list?
We have a lot of work to do.
Obviously, it can be seen as a business problem not to keep some grip on this data. I won't say I don't blame vendors (I do blame them) but I understand their position, just the same. If we want real change, we need to make the case for private data access on business merits and give them a reason to support our blight that even their accountants can get behind.
How can a business benefit from letting its customers walk away?
- Access to your data is an excellent selling point. I'll pay a premium to know my data is my data
- It may make it easier to leave, but it also makes it easier to try your service out, knowing that I can back out if I don't like it. Let me test the waters!
- The same access that lets me walk away also lets me do more with your service. Dropbox is a great example of this.
A friend recent told me that "owning your data and web apps are mutually exclusive" and I'm confident we can prove him wrong.