While Google's Data Liberation Front Website is intended to educate consumers about how they can move data to and from Google applications such as Gmail and Blogger, it will be worth watching the effect the effort will have on Google Apps.
The Data Liberation Front consists of a special team of six Google engineers whose goal is to help casual users and business professionals move their personal data in and out of Google's services by building simple import and export functions.
Such practices are known in the high-tech industry as data portability; this has taken on a heady importance in an age when users desire to shuttle the profile data and other content they create to and from social networks at will.
Data portability has a particular importance for the Google Apps enterprise team, which is trying to make it easier for users to move from their existing platforms to Google's cloud computing applications.
This team doesn't want to repeat some of the practices that Microsoft, IBM and other collaboration providers have committed to by keeping data locked into the products with which it was created. This creates dissent and resentment among customers who feel trapped by vendors' products.
In that vein of openness, Google sees a rich opportunity, according to Engineering Manager Brian Fitzpatrick of the Data Liberation Front.
"Users have never been locked into Google search," Fitzpatrick told eWEEK Sept. 15. "It's very easy to switch, you just click somewhere else. That's served us very well and we think that doing that with the rest of our products will serve us well ... If you get to a point where users are locked in, whether you do it on purpose or not, I think you've become complacent."
Fitzpatrick said the Data Liberation Front Website was created as a central information depot to make users more aware of the many ways they can move data to and from Google's Web services. "We found we had a big discovery problem. Some people just didn't know that they could use IMAP and POP for Gmail, etc."
For example, Google on Aug. 19 turned on a capability for moving users from Hotmail, Yahoo and other Web mail accounts to Gmail. To illustrate this, Fitzpatrick explained how users can move their data from Yahoo Mail to Gmail in this blog post.
The Data Liberation Front Website has this type of useful information in spades; it's a veritable how-to list for how to move data in and out of various Google products, such as Google AdWords, the Chrome Web browser and the Google Health portal.
Google has been gradually making it possible for Google Apps business users to move data in and out of Google Calendar and Google Docs, with plans to "liberate" Google Sites and enable users to do batch exports of files from Google Docs.
Specifically, Fitzpatrick and his team are working to let business users export their entire Sites wikis as HTML with microformats. Users would be able to take and drop the wiki into an Apache Web server.
For Docs, Google is working to let users select multiple Docs files and export them in OpenOffice, HTML or Microsoft formats. Google's servers convert these files into .zip files, and Apps users can e-mail these payloads to colleagues for collaboration.
Google no doubt hopes these portability efforts will foster good will among customers. This is an important part of Google's strategy as it seeks to take on Microsoft, IBM, Cisco Systems and others in SAAS (software as a service) collaboration.