Archive for July 16, 2011

Want a Spotify US Invite? Here is how you get it.

Last week, Spotify launched in the United States with much fanfare. Many of our readers pinged me asking for get an invitation to Spotify’s music service. Well, I talked to some folks over at Spotify and now have figured out a way to get you an invite. Fill out the form aka just addyour email and get an invite. Simple as that! The invitation form is here. Spotify is sending out invites every 15 minutes so this should be a fairly smooth process.

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The smartphone: Our new tool for sharing experiences

Attending Keith Urban’s concert in Philadelphia last night, my wife and I were lucky in our seat selection. Oh, we had marginal, average-priced tickets; near the back corner of the venue which had an end-stage set-up quite far away. But as the show neared conclusion, Keith carefully walked the entire length of the concert floor — flanked by security, of course — and walked up the steps near us where a temporary microphone rig magically appeared. For us it was the highlight of the night. It also shows how prominent camera-enabled, connected smartphones have become in the U.S., as nearly all of section 103 started snapping pictures.

Limited to the aging 5-megapixel shooter in my old Google Nexus One, most of the pictures I took are unusable. (Yes, I should have taken the myTouch 4G Slide!) But a few were good enough to share the experience. Thanks to the impressive Google+ Android app, all of my shots were uploaded in the background and I was able to quickly post a few during the moment. Aside from lacking picture quality though, folks on Google+ quickly noted all of the smartphones in the images. It seems like everyone was capturing memories, and I’m willing to bet that most were immediately doing as I was: Sharing those memories with friends around the world.

Whether you share on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+, use a BlackBerry, iPhone or Android handset, it’s simply amazing to think about the smartphone’s rise to prominence in our culture over just the past few years. I saw my first Keith Urban concert before I had a smartphone although I remember trying to snap photos of him back then. I couldn’t share easily share the images, and to be honest, the fuzzy pictures weren’t worth sharing with anyone. But now? It’s actually part of our daily experiences thanks to superb image sensors, fast processors, smart software and mobile broadband.

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Following Twitter

Twitter, founded by Jack Dorsey, Biz Stone, and Evan Williams in March 2006 (launched publicly in July 2006), is a social networking and micro-blogging service that allows users to…

Zing! Larry Page Calls Out ‘Competitors’ (aka Facebook) For Lack Of Social Data Portability

At the end of yesterday’s Google earnings call, CEO Larry Page made a very interesting comment about data portability, Google+, and competitors (aka Facebook). In the call, an analyst asked Page what the most compelling reasons are to switch from existing social platforms to Google+ or if the company sees a future where people can be a part of multiple social networks and platforms (paraphrased, at the 57 minute mark in the call).

Page responded with this statement on Google+ and switch costs: We are really excited about about Google+ improving the overall social experience and making it more like how you would share in real life. That’s different than what’s out there now. We are getting rave reviews for that. People really like being able to share with more discreet groups in an easy more intuitive way. There’s a lot of magic built into the product that causes that…Google as a company believes in users owning their own data and being able to easily move it out of Google. Some of our competitors don’t believe in that. We think users will eventually move to services that are in their best interests and that work really well for them.

Clearly, Page is referring to Facebook in his statement above, which has notoriously been uber-protective (bordering on restrictive) around exporting data from its network into clients like Gmail. And for some time now, data portability has been a heated battle between Google and Facebook.

Facebook recently blocked a number of contact-exporting tools that aimed to take data out of the social network to import into other services (i.e. Google+). And how could we forget the infamous Facebook-Google back and forth over sharing contacts.

Last year, Google began blocking Facebook API access to download Google contacts. Facebook hacked its way around that, and Google subsequently issued a statement that they were “disappointed”. Facebook Platform engineer Mike Vernal then responded in the comments of one of our blog posts about the slap fight, defending Facebook’s policy and calling it “consistent”. Shortly afterwards, a new chrome extension  that allowed you to scrape your Facebook contact information into Gmail was blocked Google.

The key part of all this is reciprocity—Google feels that since they are providing the ability to export Gmail contact data to Facebook, Facebook should allow Gmail users to do the same. And they don’t.

With Google+, the search giant is offering a data liberation product called Google Takeout, which gives you the option to download all of your profile data, stream data, photos from Picassa, Buzz data, Circles and Contacts. You can download it and do what you want with your data.

Facebook also allows you to download a zip file of your photos, friend lists, messages, and wall posts, but it is not in a format third party sites can use, which is why Page made the passive aggressive remark. There’s no doubt that he was referring to Facebook when talking about competitors not having the same open data portability position.

There’s no doubt that Google+ is growing fast in terms of usage, and its hard for Facebook to ignore this. In fact, Facebook CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg made his own Google+ dig at a recent press event.

Fast growth and engagement aside, data portability between Google and Facebook will continue to be an issue until both companies settle this and call a truce. The question is whether the battle has gone too far for a reasonable peace treaty to be made.

Photo credit/Flickr/dominiekt

The Underground Promise Of Turntable.fm

Editors Note: Guest contributor Semil Shah is an entrepreneur interested in digital media, consumer Internet, and social networks. He is based in Palo Alto and you can follow him on Twitter @semilshah.

One of the most prolific vinyl collections belongs to a DJ who only surfaces every now and then. And when he does, legions of fans wait on baited breath, desperate to taste the latest brew from Josh Davis, otherwise known as DJ Shadow. DJs like Shadow usually begin creating underground.  Their music is the result of months of sampling and cutting to form entirely new sounds. These new tunes form in darkness, outside the purview of record labels, radio stations, and the majority of listeners. It’s a bit romanticized, but there’s also much truth to the underground creative process and secretive DJ battles that occur in real life, where other DJs rate their peers. For those who have witnessed a live battle, it’s a unique environment where an unknown DJ can conceivably, on any given night, spin records better than pros like DJ Shadow.

Yes, this is another post about Turntable.fm.

TechCrunch’s Erick Schonfeld was the first to write about the service back in May. Since then, it’s taken off like a hot summer single.  Nearly everyone believes Turntable could become a big deal, though it faces dangerous landmines (see below) and may struggle to stay in the limelight now that Spotify has launched in the U.S. There’s a great story about the company’s pivot and creation of the service. Investors have circled around Manhattan, and the company’s Series B should be announced soon. Every tech blog and Quora have covered its rise numerous times, it’s technology stack, how it could make money, how to create playlists, a live DJ event in NYC, and even mainstream pubs like The New York Times weighed in. I won’t regurgitate or summarize any of the coverage thus far, but many of these pieces miss the key points about why this site has so much promise. I’d like to shine some light on these.

First, the Turntable.fm platform could help level the playing field for aspiring DJs and musicians to build their reputation, their audience, and perhaps even get discovered. In the real world, DJs create tracks and battle underground, earning their reputation by performing in various venues, trading mix tapes, referencing (or dissing) their peers, and incorporating new tricks into their cuts. What has been happening underground for years may now slowly be coming online, where someone could moonlight as a DJ and, perhaps even be discovered by a club or promoter.

Second, even folks who love Turntable remain skeptical about its prospects in a music world that contains Pandora, iTunes, Rdio, and now Spotify, which will feature some integration with Facebook. I believe there will be room for all of these services and that they each satisfy different needs. In other words, Turntable won’t “kill” Pandora  nor be “killed” by Spotify, which may not “kill” Rdio. Pandora is about letting machines learn your music tastes and help you discover new tunes. Recently, it announced its own social layer. iTunes wasn’t able to break into social with Ping, though a young startup Rexly is trying to crack the code. Spotify, which launched this week and may integrate with Facebook, could offer more choices than iTunes for less money and theoretically could recreate the “social rooms” ambiance of Turntable.

All of these services carry a large song inventory, largely composed of mainstream music, both current and extensive back catalogs. Not everyone’s tastes are mainstream and/or homogenous, however. For some, buying music on iTunes is simply boring, chock full of pop hits and TV soundtracks. A service like Turntable allows users to organize themselves by type of music, geography, work groups, and so forth, and helps unlock niche areas of music that make up an interesting long tail in discovery.

Third, there’s widespread fear of record labels and licensing fees. The labels could conspire to kill this service, and their track record isn’t pretty. Or, Turntable could die under the weight of onerous licensing fees. On the other hand, the record companies are so beaten up that they may have actually reached a point where may want a service like Turntable to succeed, so that it cannot burn bridges to future distribution channels, especially now given the promise around Spotify. While I wouldn’t underestimate the battle scars inflicted on the likes of Napster or Grooveshark, it seems the tide continues to move in favor of the consumer, and that the timing for Turntable could actually be impeccable.

Finally, the most exciting future possibility for Turntable is mobile and crowd interaction. Right now, there isn’t a mobile application, and given the user load issues the site is experiencing, it may be a while before they build this. For now and the foreseeable future, Turntable’s music will be heard through laptops and desktops, where a small few could create new content, and some others could help spread it through voting, and help it reach the remaining mass of listeners. Imagine being at a club during a DJ battle where audience members could register their votes via mobile apps or SMS, in addition to their applause? Or, maybe you’ll want a certain crew of DJs to play at your birthday party in San Francisco, but they’re located in Berlin—a service like Turntable could help bridge that gap, and offer your guests a chance to chime in on the music selection. All of these possibilities surround audio files, but is there room for video, too?

I recognize it’s early days for the Turntable.fm team. I don’t mean to suggest that overcoming any of these hurdles will be easy. In fact, it will be extremely interesting to see who joins as an investor in the Series B round, because an endeavor like this will require both entrepreneurs and investors taking the fight to the record industry, or creating incentives for them to play along nicely.  In some ways, it reminds me of Quora with its up-votes, entering “rooms” instead of following “threads,” and could also follow the 1-9-90 rule of content generation—where 1% create new music on the site, 9% help spread it by voting and sharing, and the rest of us consume it. Among most music fans I run into who have tried Turntable, there’s this initial, almost indescribable fascination with the service and shared desire to see it to succeed despite any challenges. They have cultivated a great deal of good will.

There are other real threats to the service. Will DJs and even casual listeners experience fatigue of waiting too long to DJ or hanging out in empty rooms? Will the technology stack hold up to the incredible demand for the service, especially when a celebrity DJ wants to spin for his or her fans? Or will the site succumb to trolls, invasive brand accounts, or SPAM? Is the site really about discovering music, or just chatting about music, or both? Or is this entire package seen as a possible antidote to Spotify’s upcoming Facebook plans, where Turntable could be gobbled up as a strategic acquisition, especially for artists and record labels who may be uneasy abowithut Facebook’s growing footprint in media?

Turntable.fm has the makings of a huge hit, already attracting world renown DJs like Questlove and Diplo. Perhaps even DJ Shadow will give the site a whirl before he releases his new album later this fall. For someone like Shadow, selling out shows worldwide isn’t a problem. Reaching new fans is, however. And, there may just be that part of him which misses the old days of DJ battles, something his status now rarely affords him. A site like Turntable.fm could give him and a variety of other established or hopeful artists an entirely new platform to test new beats, find others to collaborate with, test geographic demand for new music, interact with fans, sell albums and merchandise, play special shows online, and so much more. The possibilities are endless. That is the promise of Turntable.fm—and here’s to hoping it all gets realized one day.


Eric Wiesen

Image credit: David Torcivia

7 Habits of Highly Effective Apps

A lot can go wrong during the development and release of a mobile application, from poor project planning to faulty APIs. Often, the biggest mistakes happen before the first lines of code are ever written. Poor planning and improper project management can result in a bevy of problems, all of which can be eliminated at a project’s outset with a bit of thought and organization. With more than one hundred successful application launches, we at Mutual Mobile have identified seven habits to get a mobile initiative started on the right foot and stay on track from concept through release to the market.

1. Understand the Potential of Mobile
Many of today’s mobile initiatives are born exclusively out of a company’s IT or marketing department, but mobile shouldn’t just be a fancy gimmick relegated to serving a marketing function. Ignoring the needs of the company’s bottom line business objectives excludes one of the most important steps in the process, which is identifying precisely where mobile can have the greatest impact within an organization. From training staff to streamlining operations, mobile can extend into every part of a company. Failure to bring every department to the table during the initial planning phases often results in applications that fail to meet critical business objectives.

Who here is your audience?

2. Target Your Audience and Their Needs
Smartphones and apps do not exist in a vacuum; their use occurs out in the real world with real people. Beyond the testing chambers are rural areas with poor internet access, elderly eyesight that makes small numbers challenging to read, and children demanding attention, all of which should be accounted for during the planning phase of an application. The functionality and design of your app must be informed by understanding your users and the environments they are likely to be in when using your app. Storyboards and user narratives are a useful way to imagine an app in the hands of an actual user and identify the challenges they’ll inevitably face.

3. Settle on an Objective
A mobile app isn’t a Swiss Army knife; it’s a carving blade. It should be designed to do a limited number of things extremely well. Many of the companies who have launched successful apps have recognized that an app can only deliver a portion of their full service list before it becomes prohibitively expensive to produce and unwieldy to use. Best Buy, for example, has at least five different apps, each addressing one specific functionality. Define exactly what your app’s objective will be and focus on those features that will directly address that objective.

4. Measure Success
You can only declare your app a success or a failure if you have some metric to measure its success by. There are a multitude of ways to quantify an app’s effectiveness. These might include metrics like number of downloads, amount of money spent through the app, or amount of time spent using the app. Although the metrics should be looked at as a whole, it’s important to decide on the most important measurements as early as possible to make sure your app is poised to deliver the desired results.

Test often to make sure your app isn’t failing users.

5. Test Regularly
Many companies assume they know what’s important to a user and consequently waste a lot of time and energy on features that may not really matter. Effective feature lists should never be left to guesswork. Focus groups, surveys, and paper tests will all help you peer into the mind of your end user to get a better understanding of how he will ultimately respond to your app. Making decisions based upon data rather than conjecture is the simplest way to deliver an application that people will actually use.

6. Develop in Phases
There’s a reason app stores have an “update” option. App development is an exercise in iteration, and trying to pack every feature into your first release is both unrealistic and unnecessary. Release your app with the minimum it needs to be successful, then listen to what your audience loves, hates, and longs for. Think of the app’s release to market as the first step in an ongoing development evolution, not the completion of a product.

7. Be Ready to Roll Out
Post-release testing is not the ideal time to discover that your app is littered with problems. Early and sustained testing throughout the development process will prevent unplanned delays and keep production moving smoothly. This starts with integrating quality assurance from the project’s inception. Make QA proactive rather than reactive by anticipating problems before they happen and fixing small issues throughout the process.

Rachel Youens works for Mutual Mobile, an Austin, Texas-based company that empowers organizations to take full advantage of modern mobility. To learn more about mobile strategy, application development and design, follow us on twitter @mutualmobile.

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Y Combinator Company Frid.ge is Shutting Down

Austin Chang Fridge

Austin Chang, cofounder of Fridge

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Frid.ge, a group messaging online platform that emerged from Y Combinator last year, is shutting down its product.

Users received the following message last night, thanking them for their support. Frid.ge says it is in the process of making some big changes.

Users have until Tuesday, July 19 at 6 PM ET before all of the accounts are discontinued.

It sounds like Frid.ge is either going through a major pivot or relaunch, not shutting its doors completely.

Another (more likely) possibility: it’s getting acquired.

Frid.ge founder Austin Chang says not to worry. “There are good things planned for Frid.ge,” he told us when we inquired.

Frid.ge was in the 2010 Y Combinator class. It raised an $800,000 seed round from Square’s Keith Rabois, Yelp’s Jeremy Stoppelman, Mitch Kapor and Joshua Schachter. As of two months ago, 20,000 private groups had been established on Fridge.

frid.ge shut down

ReadWriteWeb Events Guide, July 16, 2011

We’re always on the lookout for upcoming Web tech events from around world. Know of something taking place that should appear here? Want to get your event included in the calendar? Let us know in the comments below or email us.

Here’s How Paranoid Google STILL Is About Facebook (GOOG)

google facebook funny video

Image: Screenshot

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Google researcher Paul Adams gave a public presentation and published a slide deck about the importance of social networking more than a year ago.

One of the core ideas in that presentation was that people organize their real-life social networks in discrete groups — I don’t want my coworkers and bosses looking at the pictures of the wild party I attended last weekend, and I don’t want relative strangers looking at pictures of my kids running through the sprinkler.

Adams wrote a book about the idea in collaboration with Google called Social Circles, and in June 2010 Google gave him permission to publish it.

Then news about Google+ (then rumored to be called Google Me) began to leak.

According to a blog post from Adams this week, Google freaked out and took back its permission in July.

Adams eventually got frustrated with bureaucracy at Google and the general lack of respect paid to researchers — as he says. “Google is an engineering company, and as a researcher or designer, it’s very difficult to have your voice heard at a strategic level.” So he left for Facebook last December, where he’s working on its ad platform.

Now, Google+ has launched. But amazingly, Adams claims, Google still hasn’t given him permission to publish. As he explains:

Now that Google+ has launched, I honestly can’t see why they don’t respond to my emails requesting permission to publish. The book contains no proprietary information, it is based almost entirely on research from 3rd parties (mostly universities) and any Google research referenced is already in the public domain.

So he’s writing a new book instead.

It’s more evidence of how freaked out Google is about Facebook, and how much the company believes it has riding on Google+.

Creating a Portable Web: When your data is truly yours.

How do you create content on the web? Perhaps you upload a photo album to Facebook or write a blog post on Blogspot. That content is your data, right? Kind of. The problem is, the content and accounts you create on the Web today are locked in a structure that’s been put in place by companies such as Facebook, Yahoo! and Google. They have your data in a silo. It’s still “your data” but much like rose bush in a walled garden, it can be very difficult to pull your data out with its roots, function and form in tact.

For example, Facebook has its paws on your entire social graph- your photos, videos and communications between friends, family and acquaintances. As a company, Facebook has a great understanding of the social aspect of your life, at least online. While it has an API, Facebook is still the only company that can use that data to create compelling services on top of its platform. It opens up its social graph just enough to keep developers happy but to remain in control.

Right now, Google+ is forcing you to re-create your social graph. It’s asking you all of the same information that’s on Facebook but for its own silo. Companies are competitive in this way. They don’t like to communicate. It’s why you can’t message someone on Facebook from Google+.

The web is slowly maturing to become more portable, and a handful of companies are in the early stages of a new movement to create a more open web in which the user will have ownership of the content they create. The competitieve philosophy behind this movement is about creating the best services so the user stays with you, not so that you’ve trapped the user because you have their data. Ideally, this makes the web a more altruistic place where everyone can create services to reach a large population online. We interviewed two of these ambitious entrepreneurs, including Jaisen Mathai of Open Photo and Jason Cavnar of Singly.

Open Photo

“I believe that whatever you create on the Internet should ideally belong to you and you should be able to take that data wherever you go. If you create a social graph on Facebook, you should be able to leverage that social graph elsewhere. Google should be able to tie into any content I create on Facebook as a first class citizen. That’s how we’ll have a truly competitive landscape for these social services. Inevitably another service always comes along geared towards what you like or maybe it’s a better service over all. The bottom line is, you should be able to take your data with you because your data belongs to you.”

-Jaisen Mathai, founder of Open Photo

When software engineer Jaisen Mathai left his job at Yahoo! to pursue Open Photo – a top notch photo sharing service to disrupt all others – he first put the project up on Kickstarter to see if the idea would really resonate with people. Essentially, OpenPhoto is an open-sourced project with a hosted version (á la WordPress) that lets users store photos in their own cloud service, such as Amazon S3 or Dropbox, giving users complete ownership of their data. The Open Photo project was successfully funded on Tuesday of this week and raised over $25,000. ”At this point I’m convinced that at least the early adopters are interested in this concept,” says Mathai. Open Photo will be a platform that lays out how your photos are stored, tagged, shared and specified and all of that data will be completely portable. And the best news yet? Open Photo is open-sourced on Github.

CBM: Why wouldn’t Flickr do this?

Jaisen Mathai: This idea of portable web services poses a conflict of interest for many companies. Flickr is the last company that I am wary of because you look at someone like Yahoo! and even Facebook and they’re companies whose primary goal is making revenue. It’s very difficult for Yahoo! to say ‘Here are all of your Flickr files in a usable format with your albums and comments intact’. Letting the user actually have that control is scary when the entire history of the company has been focused on monetizing from having the keys to the user’s content. It’s a huge paradigm shift for Yahoo! to shift its model. Meanwhile newer companies don’t have that historical perspective and baggage. They’re giving the user the key and building sustainable business models that can be wrapped around it.

CBM: What sustainable business models do you have in mind for Open Photo?

JM: At Open Photo, I will be the first app developer to build an app on top of this platform. The platform will include a specification that allows people to have photos that they can upload, tag and comments on that can be used across different services. Also, part of the platform will be to create a service that allows people to upload photos into their own cloud storage spaces such as Amazon S3, Rackspace or Dropbox. Ideas for monetization could be creating an Instagram like service on top of it, or perhaps a service for professional photographers to sell prints. There are so many small, niche monetization areas one could focus on. How about creating a mobile application for bloggers around Open Photo? Any enhanced, additional add-on could have a monthly cost associated with it.

CBM: Will Open Photo put a lot of other services out of business?

JM: I hope that it does. And I welcome other services to put me out of business. I want there to be so much competition so we can use the best services. In this environment, the primary competitive factor is: I have to compete against this. The ‘chicken and egg problem’ goes away when the actual data is something the user can bring to you. Therefore, Open Photo has the potential to disrupt a lot of existing photo services. I’m creating something and inviting other people to really compete against it in a pretty open manner. I want to and I believe I can provide the best service.

CBM: How will someone like my father who deeply cares about his personal data but is unfamiliar with personal cloud services learn to use and love your product?

JM: Right now, there’s a little bit of a learning curve. But services like Amazon S3 and Rackspace both have plans to implement OAuth, so sign up will becomes less scary. There will be a simple signup screen on Open Photo where you can login with your Amazon account, OAuth-style, and then you’re redirected back to Open Photo and ready to go. By the time your father is interested in using Open Photo, there will be much less friction to do so. Down the road, having that simple linking is going to be trivial and for early adopters it’s not that big of a stumbling block anyhow. A user may not care about Amazon S3 but they do care about their data. Ultimately the goal will be to get cloud services companies really interested in what Open Photo is doing.

Singly: The Locker project.

Singly‘s Locker Project is an open source effort by developers to make it easy for a person to access the information they have contributed to the various services and websites they use, get a copy of it, and store that data wherever they feel is most secure and safe. This could range from their social data to financial data, browsing history, health devices and more.

“There’s a meaningful amount of information we leave about ourselves across the web and we believe strongly in the idea that putting that information back in a person’s hands can enable them to do things that just aren’t possible today,” says Jason Cavnar, co-founder of Singly.

Singly’s three founders- Cavnar, Jeremie Miller (who created the open-source instant messaging protocol XMPP) and Simon Murtha-Smith were each working on applications in 2010 that would make it easier for people to quickly access, search and filter through their social data. The three spent a lot of engineering time just trying to get people’s data into one place and make it reusable in meaningful ways. “It became a technical hurdle that was constrictive to each of the startups we were working on. We were convinced that more and more applications and web services would want more data about you to give you better user experiences and unlock value. The idea of bringing together more and more APIs felt, and continues to feel, inherently inefficient,” explains Cavnar. Together the three unearthed an idea to crowdsource the engineering manpower needed to change the forthcoming generation of portable web applications.

Telehash is the name of the protocol that Miller and other engineers have been working on that allows people to share their information in a peer-to-peer fashion, making the flow of personal information, as well as where it resides, far more secure. When asked about the future of The Locker Project and Telehash, Cavnar says, “If things go well, they will fade into the background. It will feel a lot like Jabber does today. Over 1 billion people use it to connect to each other – whether through IM, message boards, notifications, etc. That’s about half of the Internet that benefits in a big way from it and yet very few people know much about it. We hope to see a day soon where people know what their data locker is, and how it enables them. There will be a built-in assumption that a copy of everything we generate that is personal in nature, or consume in any digital fashion will end up a part of our individual locker–in a safe, secure environment, and from which you can share that information directly.”

Cavnar says most companies in the social media space recognize that a person who creates data has an inherent right to a copy of that data. In fact, he says there seems to be little dispute on that across the industry. But it’s clear that some companies such as Facebook don’t make as much of an effort as they should to allow their competitors, specifically Google, to access that data.

Cavnar says, “As more people start asking for their data directly from the services, instead of the industry peer asking for it, you will see a shift in how the issue is viewed and treated…We’ve been approached by various Fortune 100 companies all the way to the CTO level that also want a way to let their customers get a copy of the data they have on them. All of the affirm that the participatory marketplace of data sharing will trump data hoarding in the long run and it’s the companies who seek to establish and maintain trust, and the developers who seek to bring more utility to the market that will drive this. The most trustworthy companies will inure the trust and allegiance of their user base going forward.”

One such company is Google, which perhaps has more data on our human population than any other company in the world.

The Data Liberation Front

Founded in 2007, the Data Liberation Front is an engineering team at Google whose singular goal is to make it easier for users to move their data in and out of Google products including AdWords, Analytics, Apps for Business, Blogger, Buzz, Calendar, Chrome Bookmarks, Contacts, Docs, Finance, Gmail, Health, Latitude, Picasa Web Albums, Reader, Voice and YouTube. DLF states: ”We do this because we believe that you should be able to export any data that you create (or import into) a product. We help and consult other engineering teams within Google on how to ‘liberate’ their products that they just announced that allows you to get your data out.”

The average Web user usually doesn’t think to check if they can get their data out of a product until they decide one day that they want to leave. For this reason, the DLF encourages people to ask these three questions before starting to use a product that will store their data:

  1. Can I get my data out at all?
  2. How much is it going to cost to get my data out?
  3. How much of my time is it going to take to get my data out?

The ideal answers to these questions are:

  1. Yes.
  2. Nothing more than I’m already paying.
  3. As little as possible.

There shouldn’t be an additional charge to export your data and it shouldn’t take hours to get your data out. DLF’s first product Google Takeout lets you take your data out of multiple Google products including Buzz, Contacts and Circles, Picasa Web Albums, Profile and Stream, in one fell swoop in portable and open formats‚ so it’s easy to import to other services quickly.

Other notable companies working in this field include The Salmon Protocol, which aims to define a standard protocol for comments and annotations to swim upstream to original update sources – and spawn more commentary in a virtuous cycle; Status Net, a Twitter alternative that federates the data so you can do what you want with it; and OStatus, an underlying protocol which makes communications between StatusNet and other sites work seamlessly.

“The thing about the Internet that is so great is that it’s ultimately an open marketplace – a civic forum. While it ebbs and flows with various points of control, the needs of people shift and it opens up to the next wave of innovation. Amazing strides have been made with the social web, and at speeds I don’t think we thought possible,” says Jason Cavnar of The Locker Project. “The table has been set by these strides for the next wave of sharing possibilities and innovations.”

All of the projects listed above are open-sourced, which is a fundamental part of the portable movement. The first step is to democractize a user’s content and let them own it. “It’s saying we choose not to be the gatekeeper,” says Open Photo’s Jaisen Mathai. These are a group of entrepreneurs inspired by open communication and the ability for people to connect with one another directly. They strive for a society in which humankind may grow through that free flow of ideas, communication and common experiences.

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