Google helps users jump ship to rival Web services

Move aimed at building trust in Google's cloud computing efforts

In a move that flouts common business logic, Google is making it as easy as possible for people to migrate away from its services -- including Google Docs, Gmail and Blogger -- and by doing so is positioning itself to be users' first port of call within the so-called cloud that many software companies see as the future for computing.

For years many companies including Google, Amazon, eBay and Yahoo have been promoting cloud-based services, which allow data storage on companies' Web-based networks instead of on a PC.

Millions of people rely on Web-based services such as Yahoo Mail and Facebook. But beyond e-mail and social-networking sites, the anticipated migration to the cloud has been slow in coming.

It's hard to get people to trust a company enough to hand over all their personal data, whether it be e-mail, photos, or blogs said Brian Fitzpatrick, Google's engineering manager in charge of a two-year-old project jokingly dubbed the Data Liberation Front, during an interview Friday.

"By making it simple to export data we are helping build trust," he said.

The Front, a team of Google engineers based in Chicago, have focused on exactly that. Over the past two years they have been simplifying the process of exporting, as well as importing, people's data from and to Google's applications.

Other supporters of cloud computing, such as Amazon, offer ways of simplifying the importing process but "no other company has appointed as much resources to the exporting process as us," Fitzpatrick said but he declined to put a figure on it.

For years many companies have based their business strategies around retaining clients, using lock-ins wherever they can to make it as hard as possible to move to a rival supplier.

"The Web is all about openness, lock-ins don't make any sense there so we disagree with that as a long-term strategy," Fitzpatrick said.

Blogger, the free blogging platform Google bought in 2003 allows users to export blogs and the comments they generate in one click.

Google Docs, which includes word processing and spreadsheet applications, stores data in a zip folder, which is then transferred out of Google's bit of the cloud and onto PCs.

Fitzpatrick chose not to reveal how many Google subscribers have used the data exporting function he and his colleagues have been creating over the past two years.

"Not many," he said vaguely, adding that the actual count is complicated because bloggers, for example, were frequently exporting their blogs.

"We then found out that they were backing up their material, even though it is being stored safely on several different servers around the world."

The bloggers illustrate the problem Google faces trying to win people's trust in the cloud. That task is made harder by the fact that even when you do close an account with one of Google's Web-based services and export your data to a rival provider, traces of it still remain in the Google system.

"Residual copies of deleted messages and accounts may take up to 60 days to be deleted from our active servers and may remain in our offline backup systems," Google's privacy notice states.

Google officials weren't immediately able to say how much access the company would have to those residual copies after subscribers closed their accounts.

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Paul Meller

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