The mythical value of data lockin

September 4, 2008

When talking to people about Data Portability there is a couple of questions that always gets asked first.


Why would a vendor allow users to leave their service?


Why make it easy for users to take the preacious data you have about them and use it on other sites?


What is the business justification for letting data walk out the door?


You spent a lot of time and energy to get users to sign up and give up their data right?

My answer always consists of a number of parts. There are a number of reasons why vendors should get involved in an open ecosystem of data interchange. User respect, reduced barrier to entry, reduced network fatigue and more.

Today, however, I’d like to focus on one particular reason why the value of Data Lockin is a myth.

Here is a diagram that represents the data you have about your user. 100%. Awesome right? You have a complete view of the proprietary data you have managed to collect about your user.

100% of your proprietary data

Have you ever considered, however, that your user’s data actually looks like this?

Your User's Data

Your User's Complete Data Set

Even if you are Google, and you know every search your users do, every document they write, every chat they have – you still don’t know their facebook social graph. You don’t know their tweet stream. You don’t know the books they bought on Amazon.

Your view of your user’s data pales in comparisson to their complete data set.

Not to mention the data you think you have is out-of-date weeks after you aquire it. Interests change, friends come and go, projects, assignments and jobs change and much, much more.

Rapid Expiration of Data

Rapid Expiration of Data

So, Data Portability is not about letting your users ‘walk out’ of your service. Data Portability is about enabling, empowering and encouraging your users to bring all their data with them, to connect your data to the rest of their data ecosystem and to continue to refresh and maintain the data on an ongoing basis.

The value of Data Lockin is a myth. Data Portability is an opportunity to have true visibility into a user’s friends, interests, content and comments.

Are you thinking about joining the data web?

6 Responses to “The mythical value of data lockin”

  1. Sam Sethi Says:

    I want to ask the question WHY do we need DP? WHY do we need to own our social graph plus attention when sites can do it for us for FREE?

    IMHO the answer is simply because the time and attention we spend on the web has VALUE to others (Advertisers) which thus far we have given away for free to services like Flickr, YouTube, FaceBook, Google etc. which in turn has enabled the owners of these services to create vast WEALTH for themselves and their investors by selling it often without our permission.

    In the past the industrial revolution resulted in the creation of factories which owners utilised to generate great wealth for themselves but in turn for the wealth creation they paid their workers for their time and labour.

    Today the digital revolution has created “web factories” aka services such as Twitter, Flickr, Facebook, YouTube where we the labour generate great wealth for these new owners, except we do not get paid for our time/attention/creation because the services offered to us are FREE.

    I would argue that we need to change this model/relationship so that we can AMORTISE OUR VALUE CREATION.

    Basically I don’t want to work for free anymore and the only way to change this model is to take ownership of our data and then too offer our time/attention/creation (aka VALUE) to these services in exchange for a share of their advertising revenue or some other benefit. Free is no longer enough!

    HOW can we do this? Firstly we need to control and store our own data (SimpleDB, SQLite). At the moment ownership of our data is fragmented and silo’d in services like Twitter, Flickr, Mybloglog, Youtube, Facebook etc which has created vast wealth for their owners because of the time and attention (labour) I gave away for free.

    The second stage is to change the model by creating a bi-directional relationship with these services.

    For example with Flickr I would register my personal details by SUBSCRIBING to Flickr. This would enable Flickr to get access to my personal datastore to upload the personal details I want them to have which they can then PUBLISH with my permission.

    After that I could then let them have access to my social graph and finally in exchange for all of this valuable information Flickr would provide me with their photo sharing service.

    Now if at anytime in the future I decide to UNSUBSCRIBE from Flickr I can do so unilaterally by closing my account and with it I disable Flickr’s access to my personal details, social graph and data by revoking my permission.

    So HOW do I amortise my VALUE within my personal datastore?

    The amortisation of the personal datastore occurs by web services agreeing to share their advertising revenue with me based on a percentage of the number hits/click throughs etc I bring to them.

    So in the case of Flickr they could serve related advertising based on my attention (which I have given them access too)i.e this is Chris’s point, web services would have access to a fuller picture of my data.

    So an advertising led FREE service would share a SMALL PERCENTAGE of its revenue with me. So I would no longer be working in a digital service for free. i.e the service that offered me the best return for my time/attention/creation would be the one I subscribed too and if a better offer came along I would be able to move – DP!

    If however I simply wanted a ad-free service then I could still subscribe as above but instead I would be prepared to pay a fee in order to not see ads.

    Bottomline the model today is wrong. I am continually subscribing to services and continually recreating my social graph and continually creating value for these services all for FREE.

    Chris’ work on syncstream and apml is worth investigating further as this is in line wit this model change.

  2. Gordon Rae Says:

    Excellent reframing, Chris. Locking-in data increases the cost of maintaining it and eliminates many opportunities for creating value. The economic value of DataPortability is to reduce costs by eliminating duplicate storage, duplicate maintenance, and synchronisation problems, and add value by re-use, re-purposing, and mashups.

    Sam: I don’t think you understand the impact that web is having on publishing and the media.
    Advertising is not a sustainable business model. Murdoch admits MySpace isn’t hitting its revenue targets, Zuckerberg won’t even talk about Facebook’s. Both those sites have huge infrastructure costs, and their gross revenues are less than a dollar a month per active subscriber. You don’t work for free. You get services for free. That’s a huge transfer of value to you.

    Incidefteri: I’m not aware of any data portability issues around fasting.

  3. […] got some helpful diagrams that illustrate his point, so I suggest reading his post on “The mythical value of data lockin“. In short, though, it’s this paragraph that seems to sum it up: Even if you are […]

  4. Haha am I really the first comment to this awesome writing?!

  5. Hah I am really the only reply to your amazing article?

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