Google and Facebook this week said that they have joined the DataPortability Workgroup, an organization dedicated to creating ways to easily share user-generated content created on social networks.
The move by the two firms, which together store a huge amount of social content, comes less than a week after a blogosphere brouhaha erupted when well-known tech blogger Robert Scoble was kicked off of Facebook for trying to download his contact information from the social network.
Chris Saad, co-founder and CEO of Faraday Media and an organizer of the data portability group, noted in a blog post that Google and Facebook -- along with Plaxo, which also announced plans to join the group -- "together represent the key players in the competing approaches to social networking platforms and data portability."
"Their joint support of the DataPortability initiative presents a new opportunity for the next generation of software -- particularly in the fields of social software, user rights and interoperability," Saad wrote. "This means users will be able to access their friends and media across all the applications, social networking sites and widgets that implement the design into their systems."
The group's philosophy is that user photos, videos and other forms of personal data should be discoverable by and shared between their chosen tools and vendors, he added.
"The technologies already exist; we simply need a complete reference design to pull the pieces together," Saad noted. "Our mission: To put all existing technologies and initiatives in context to create a reference design for end-to-end data portability."
Marshall Kirkpatrick, a blogger at ReadWriteWeb, said that the announcement by Google and Facebook could mean the end of user lock-in -- but could also create new privacy challenges.
"The non-participation of Google and Facebook, two companies that hold more user data than almost any other consumer service on the market, was the biggest stumbling block to the viability of the project," he wrote. "These are two of the most important companies in recent history -- what's being decided now is whether they will be walled-garden data-horders or truly open platforms tied into a larger ecosystem of innovation with respect for user rights and sensible policies about data."
Brad Fitzpatrick, inventor of LiveJournal and a leader of the Google-led OpenSocial project, will represent Google in the DataPortability organization. Facebook's Benjamin Ling (formerly at Google) will represent Facebook, and Joseph Smarr is Plaxo's representative.
Observers noted that Scoble had been temporarily kicked out of Facebook for using an automated Plaxo script to "scrape" the data from Facebook.
"If these industry titans can put aside their rivalry and work together -- magic could happen," Fitzpatrick noted. "Hopefully they can work appropriately with the other members of the working group, bleeding-edge consultants and representatives of smaller and in many cases more user-centric companies. The participation of representatives from Google and Facebook in this initiative could prove key in the continued development of what's possible, instead of the early suffocation of what could have been."
Google and Facebook will join Yahoo, Dow Jones, eHub, Zoomr and the BBC as members of the group.