It's hard to argue against data portability. After all, who could oppose giving people control over the data they load, publish, and store on Web sites?
This is particularly timely now that average users have started feeling the "network fatigue" that comes from maintaining multiple social-networking profiles, e-mail accounts, blogs, address book applications, social-news-sites memberships, and the like.
And yet, while it is an important and unquestionably worthy endeavor, data portability faces thorny challenges in such areas as technology, privacy, security, business, and regulation and legislation.
An informed and articulate discussion of these challenges can be found on the online forum of the DataPortability Workgroup, an organization founded recently to highlight the work that multiple data portability groups have been doing and to create a technical blueprint for vendors to adopt.
While the workgroup has about 50 formal members, anyone can join the discussion forum, which now has more than 700 participants and is the workgroup's main meeting place.
Activity on the forum has been engaging in recent weeks as people discuss technical and nontechnical issues, offer up suggestions, ask questions, argue and, mostly, cheer each other on in their collective quest for a satisfactory data portability solution.
Almost 80 discussion threads have been started and more than 400 messages posted as participants ponder such issues as what are the parameters for user data, what data portability truly means, who owns data already created for a specific site, and whether making data portable is illegal in Europe.
Other threads focus on how to bring together various data portability efforts already under way, like the Friend of a Friend project (FOAF), OpenID , Attention Profiling Mark-up Language (APML), the Liberty Alliance, and various open data microformats.
Despite the magnitude of the endeavor, participants interviewed feel optimistic that the workgroup will yield concrete results that will bring about industry-wide implementations of data portability solutions.
"Where there is a will, there's a way. And so far it seems like everyone has thrown their will behind the project. Now they need to find a way," said Chris Saad, cofounder of the DataPortability Workgroup.
The DataPortability Workgroup positions itself at a higher conceptual level than the groups working to develop specific technical standards for data portability.
"Our goal is to highlight, not compete [with], the work of other groups and to encourage the adoption of their work with vendors and users," Saad said.
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 the DataPortability Technical Blueprint, envisioned as a key reference document for a complete implementation architecture for the data portability stack of standards.