Google Data Liberation Front Unlocks Data Facebook Hoards

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2011-07-18

Google Data Liberation Front Unlocks Data Facebook Hoards

Google's Data Liberation Front added the ability for users to export lists of the Websites they recommended to other users via the Google +1 button. 

The +1 button allows users to recommend search results or ads they like while using The service was given more relevance with the June 28 launch of Google+, a social network that lets users share links, videos and photos, and allows users to "+1" content there.

On the same day Google+ launched to limited field testing, the Data Liberation Front unveiled Google Takeout, which lets users export their data from Google Buzz, Google Contacts and Google+ Profile, Circles and Streams, as well as Picasa Web Albums, which provides the picture storage foundation for Google+.

Google+ and Google +1 should be a boon for the Data Liberation Front, launched September 2009 to let users free data from Gmail, Google AdWords, Google Chrome and other company products.

Helmed by Google Engineering Manager Brian Fitzpatrick, the Front has applied a quasi-militaristic, semi-serious approach to letting users shuttle data they create via Google Web services outside those applications. Just see this video.

This is because Google is stressing that it has taken an open or die position to freeing up user data, something rival Facebook has been reticent to do as it built out its massive walled garden of 750 million-plus users.

Facebook allows users to download their data and take it with them, but Fitzpatrick has said the approach is not open, compared with Google, which uses "portable and open formats?ö?ç?£ so it's easy to import to other services quickly."

This is one of the reasons developers have created tools such as Move2Picasa, which lets users shuttle their Facebook photos to Picasa Web Albums on Google+.

Facebook blocked Facebook Friend Exporter, a Chrome extension that automates the extraction of user data and Open-Xchange's Social OX, which lets users take their contact list to other services such as Google+.

Facebook's terms of service give it the right to block such data-scraping tools, but Google's point with Takeout is that developers shouldn't have to craft such tools to help Facebook users dance around data exports.

Google Goes for Open Data Migration Approach

This is not the first time Google has been down this road with Facebook. Late last year, Facebook blocked Gmail users from exporting their Facebook contact info to Gmail.

However, Facebook users could export their Gmail contacts to populate their accounts on the social network. Google tried to block this move, but Facebook worked around it.

In an informal chat session conducted with journalists via Google+ Hangouts group video chat application July 15, Fitzpatrick said he and his team intentionally launched Google Takeout the same day as the Google+ field test launch because they want users to know that Google is going to respect their data.

Fitzpatrick said Google doesn't want to create another way to lock users in on the Web, freeing them up to try a competing product or create a backup copy for themselves.

He declined to mention Facebook by name during the chat, though he did say that his Front and Takeout service is designed to ensure Google's own innovation and implied Facebook locks people in to keep users ensconced in the service's network.

"Our thought is, we don't want to create another way of locking users in on the Web," Fitzpatrick said. "The more you lock your users in, the less hard you have to work to keep them."

He then added a cautionary tale regarding where Facebook is going wrong, again without mentioning Facebook by name:

If someone is hot on your tail in innovation and your product, the only way to keep ahead of them is to continue innovating, because if you lock your users in and stop developing the product, what you're going to find is that there is some startup out there or some other company that really wants these users' business and they're going to work really hard to come up with a product that is super-innovative or better than yours and eventually your users will leave.

Conversely, Fitzpatrick believes the easier a company makes it for users to leave a Web service with their data intact, the more comfortable they will feel staying.

It's early days for Google+, so it's too early to say whether he is right, but it's certainly the flip side to the approach Facebook has taken.

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