Against Portability: Who Owns The Pen With Which You Write?
I wrote the notes for this post with a fountain pen in a notebook. Ink on paper. The use of wet ink implies a certain amount of danger and permanence. We have a mental model of writing that includes one hand, one pen and one piece of paper.
Much of my day was spent in consideration of the idea of data portability and collecting up all the bits of stuff we have scattered about on various servers attached to the network. We’ve created identities on many systems and used local tools to write text, or store a photo or a video.
Who owns the pen with which you write? Who owns the paper? The issue of data portability has to do with writing your data with a borrowed pen on someone else’s piece of paper. Portability requires the building of protocols to move structured data around based on authenticated identity. If your stuff is in a public RSS feed, then it’s just a matter of aggregating feeds. A number of players have done this already. But if you really want to move your stuff from one place to another, that’s a problem.
What if I had my own pen and paper. When I wrote something I kept the drafts and the finished copy in my files and sent a copy to the public social network, wiki, or blog comment? My files could be local on a hard drive, or in the cloud–but I would control them at the point of origin. There would be no need to collect them up from various spots around the network. If I wanted to move from one service to another, I could request my data be erased and have the raw data available to move to another service.
What this thought experiment reveals is the value that a particular service adds to the raw data. And of course, some data can get very complex and interconnected. But there are many types of data for which this would work very well.
You may say, that no such service exists. Neither does data portability. I wonder which would be easier to build? Which would be easier to implement? I wonder if you could make any money selling pens and paper?