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Data Portability: Reasonable Goal or Impossible Dream?

The workgroup's main accomplishment so far, Saad said, is that it brought people to the table and started to outline the documents it plans to deliver, chief among which will be theDataPortability Technical Blueprint, envisioned as a key reference document for a complete implementation architecture for the data portability stack of standards.

John Breslin is a workgroup supporter who sees it as having a lot of synergy with theSemantically-Interlinked Online Communities Project(SIOC), which he founded in 2004 to provide methods for interconnecting discussion services such as blogs, forums and mailing lists to each other.

"SIOC is a data format essentially to describe communities. It has many different possible applications, of which data portability is one," Breslin, a lecturer and researcher at the Digital Enterprise Research Institute of the National University of Ireland in Galway, said in a phone interview.

Victor Coustenoble shares a similar belief. He co-founded with Edwin Taylor theOSocial.netproject to let people see their social-networking data in an open, portable way and let them securely build a friends list across site boundaries without the need for new registrations.

"About our participation, we are very interested to implement and use data portability ideas and specifications. It helps us to write applications easily for data management with standards and with a community support, which is very important for us," Coustenoble said in an e-mail interview.

For Devin Holloway, the workgroup could yield historic results. He plans to move from Silicon Valley to Asia to pursue entrepreneurial opportunities where social networks, mobile phones and Internet technologies intersect.

"[Data portability] will pave the way for a future rich in services and applications that harness our aggregate data to help improve our lives, in virtually every aspect. The [workgroup] is onto something that is going to change the world, and I'm excited to be a part of the process," he said in an e-mail interview.

Unfortunately, the enthusiasm, commitment and passion displayed by participants, many of whom are acting as individual volunteers, hasn't so far been replicated by the major Internet players.

While the decisions by Google and Facebook to become members put the workgroup in a news spotlight, their representatives don't seem to have yet participated in the forum discussions. Google and Facebook also declined to have their workgroup representatives be interviewed for this article. Each separately sent a brief, prepared statement saying that they want to participate in the group because they're committed to data portability.

This isn't new. The CEOs of both companies at different times have said that their companies believe in data portability, and yet, neither them nor any other major Internet company can be said to have taken a leadership role in this effort.

"I haven't seen anything convincing from the big Internet companies that illustrates that they want to embrace this wholeheartedly," Breslin said. "These sites haven't really been rushing to make their data portable yet."

"We are yet to see if they are fully committed. So far they have only committed to the conversation," said Saad, who is also CEO of Faraday Media in Australia and cofounder of the APML Workgroup. "That being said, however, it's encouraging to see them take the first few steps in the right direction,"

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