How portable is your data?

Quite an interesting development yesterday that Facebook is now implementing OpenID, allowing its user to sign-up and sign-in with non-Facebook credentials. I definitely did not expect this from the “walled garden” known as Facebook. Initiatives like OpenID are a fantastic move in the direction of being consumer-centric in the face of extreme web fragmentation. As the Web 2.0 bubble grew, more and more websites were created, forgetting that the user can only visit a finite number of websites. Expecting users to go to your niche social network is not a strategy any longer, especially since just about anything can be done inside of Facebook and a handful of others. It’s hard enough to get users to go to your site, it’s foolish to expect them to create a new set of credentials. Even if they do create the new login, coming back and remembering how to login is a whole other bridge that needs to be crossed. Which is why OpenID is super important now.

Another area that’s just as important and heavily debated is: what happens to your data when you do engage with a site / social network? What about the information that you have diligently provided to Facebook about yourself? What about all of your pithy wisdom that you have shared with your followers on Twitter?  What about all the photographs that you posted to Flickr and Facebook? What about all the diligent tagging, note writing, photo album creation, wall posts, comments on your friends status updates on Facebook? And oh my, what about the e-mails? Who owns that? We would like to think that we do, as it’s our content. But reading many sites’ TOS’s, that couldn’t be further from the truth – the site owns all of the content. Putting aside the possibility of a social network misusing our content (that’s a whole other discussion), what happens when the “new Facebook” (whoever that is) dethrones Facebook, and you want to take all of your content with you that you spent so many months, even years, creating? Do you have to start from scratch? It is my theory that this is why Facebook is so successful: we have so much skin in the game, we aren’t going anywhere, and they know it. And what about the not-so-remote possibility of a site like Facebook failing? Does all of your content die with it?

I first started thinking about it when I saw exactly how formidable the amount of user-generated content is when I witnessed the below exchange, generated by my Facebook status update. My friends wrote many, and quite lengthy, comments (which could’ve been blogposts in their own right). They were so engaged and free to share, and we all got so enthralled by the discussion that we forgot that we may never see this content again after sharing it.

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One way to ensure that all of your comments at least get funneled into one depository that you can point to, and make part of your digital footprint, is to use commenting systems like Disqus. But that still doesn’t solve the problem of a site going out of business and taking you down with it.

How do you preserve and backup your content? I have tried tweetake.com to back up my tweets. It does a great job of throwing your tweets / direct messages / favorites / all of the above into a spreadsheet. However, it only goes back a couple of months; at least it did for me.

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