Google Creates Portability API for Its Apps

Programmers can bask in the glory of helping their application's users import, export or synchronize Google contact lists.

Google scored a goal for team data portability March 5, unveiling a Google Contacts Data API to let programmers provide access to users' contact lists shared among Google applications such as Gmail, Reader and Calendar.

The Google Contacts Data API allows programmers to request a list of a user's contacts, edit or delete content in an existing contact and query the content in an existing contact.

More specifically, programmers will be able to import their users' Google contacts into a social Web or desktop application, export their application's contact list to Google or synchronize Google contacts with contacts on a mobile device.

"Have you ever been on a Web site that asked you for your Google user name and password so that it can import your Gmail contact list? Did you think twice before giving out that information, hoping the Web site would not use it to access your credit card information stored with Google Checkout? Now you don't have to," wrote Sebastian Kanthak, an engineer on Google's Contacts Team, in a blog post March 5.

The capabilities provided by the API are highly sought after at a time when users are looking to move data seamlessly from one application to the next without fear that Web sites or people will be able to access sensitive data.

The data portability issue is particularly salient among social networks, with users calling for Facebook, MySpace and other social sites to free up their profile data to be ported between social sites. Data portability was an overarching theme at the Graphing Social Patterns West event held in San Diego March 3-4.

Privacy and security concerns, as well as social sites' fear of losing control over their user bases, have held back data portability to this point.

The Google Contacts Data API, although limited to Google Apps, could be a template for more widespread data sharing, which is being promoted by Google, MySpace, Facebook and others through the DataPortability group.

"We hope that APIs like this one mean you will never have to give out your user name and password to other sites again," Kanthak added. "Please encourage all sites you use to switch to this API for accessing your Google contact data."

Google posted options the API supports here and is soliciting feedback for the software in its Google Contacts API group.

ReadWriteWeb's Marshall Kirkpatrick gave the API a shout-out in this post March 6, although he noted that the tool doesn't support the more generally focused OAuth, a spec for allowing secure API authentication from desktop and Web applications.