Group pushing for open data portability stack

New workgroup proposes 'open standards stack,' saying the boom in social networking has created the need for user data to be portable

A new workgroup says the social networking-Web 2.0 boom has created a conundrum: How to securely deliver sets of personal data across the ever-growing flock of such applications and Web sites with a minimum of pain and complexity.

The group is attempting to create an "open standards stack for the ubiquitous remixing and sharing of data."

Chris Saad, co-founder and CEO of Faraday Media in Brisbane, Australia, started the organization, which includes a far-flung array of Web developers and entrepreneurs. "With so many applications springing up on the Web (particularly social networks -- but others as well), it is clear that social functionality and personal user data will need to be portable if we are going to have any sort of long-term sustainability," Saad wrote in an e-mail message. "Users want to be able to move from tool to tool, vendor to vendor, community to community, and apply different experiences to the same data/connections."

Saad said efforts to tackle this problem have tended to fixate on a single standard as the key. "The thing is, though, that other standards usually picked up the slack where others left off. So I felt it was a critical time to put it all in context," he wrote. "It is our hope that by contextualizing and evangelizing these standards as an open 'stack' that creates an end-to-end value proposition for everyone, it helps decision makers understand how it all fits together."

The group's proposed data portability framework includes some familiar standards, such as OpenID for user authentication and RSS for content feeds.

But the group also included a number of "microformats" such as APML, nascent standards that underlie the growing spectrum of user experience on the Web. "The stack you see there right now is very much 'Version 0.1,'" Saad said. He said there are also plans to develop reference designs "for actually implementing these things as a cohesive whole."

APML (Attention Profile Markup Language) gives users the ability to organize and rank data about their interests. Faraday Media developed a Web application called Particls that supports APML. The program extends the idea of a feed reader, serving up alert messages to users when something that may interest them is detected. The point is to essentially surf the Web while doing actual work, the company explains.

It's one thing to promote a set of such standards, however, and quite another to get them adopted across the industry as a unified stack.

Saad, whose company helped to develop APML, said the group will cooperate with established standards bodies such as OASIS, as long as doing so won't dilute or complicate the effort: "I really believe the reason RSS got so much traction was because it was so simple. The same needs to be true for the stack and the reference implications."

In the meantime, group organizers have devised a strategy that begins at the grassroots level, according to member Ben Metcalfe, a platform strategist based in San Francisco, who works with MySpace and other companies.

"Evangelizing and assisting those who can implement these standards the easiest and fastest -- the low-hanging fruit -- gets us there quickly. In many ways it's a simple sell to smaller companies, who can also use this as a competitive advantage over their competition," Metcalfe wrote in an e-mail message.

But big enterprises should also get on board, Metcalfe argued, because the proposed stack would also "form either the solution or at least partial solution to a lot of internal and enterprise-to-enterprise data exchange issues."

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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