Data portability is an important issue for users and businesses alike. In this age of cloud computing, where so many web users have valuable data hosted by web services, we can sometimes find ourselves vulnerable to the will and occurrences of these services. Let’s say for example, Twitter is one of the key components to your marketing strategy, and one of your main sources of traffic. When Twitter goes down, as it frequently does, this can present quite a problem. Ever wished you could access your tweets when Twitter was down?

On the subject of Twitter, the company announced some changes to its terms of service late last week. They tried to emphasize that users “own their tweets.” But do users really own them if they cannot access them because Twitter is not working? What if you could export your Tweets into Facebook, or into MySpace? It’s not that one service is better than the other. It’s about simply having the freedom to take your data wherever you want.

Google realizes the importance of this concept, which is why some members of the company’s team have gotten together and formed the Data Liberation Front, a group that is dedicated to making Google’s products easier to get data in and out of. The group has also launched a website at DataLiberation.org, where users of Google products can find information about how to import and export data.

“Many web services make it difficult to leave their services – you have to pay them for exporting your data, or jump through all sorts of technical hoops — for example, exporting your photos one by one, versus all at once,” says Brian Fitzpatrick, Data Liberation engineering manager. “We believe that users – not products – own their data, and should be able to quickly and easily take that data out of any product without a hassle. We’d rather have loyal users who use Google products because they’re innovative – not because they lock users in.”

Data Liberation Front The group’s mission statement goes:

Users own the data they store in any of Google’s products. Our team’s goal is to give users greater control by making it easier for them to move data in and out.

This principle not only applies to individual users, but also to businesses, schools and other organizations that choose Google Apps to provide better tools at a fraction of the cost of traditional solutions,” says Fitzpatrick. “It should be easy to bring legacy data into the cloud, share data between Google Apps and other IT infrastructure, and get data out of the cloud if it ever makes sense to stop using our service.

At DataLiberation.org, users can simply browse through Google’s list of products and see detailed instructions for each one about how to “escape” to or from any of them. This list includes: AdWords, Alerts, Analytics, App Engine, Apps for Businesses, Blogger, Bookmarks, Calendar, Chrome Boomarks, Contacts, Docs, Finance, Gmail, Health, iGoogle, Maps, Notebook, Orkut, Picasa, Reader, Voice, Web History, and YouTube.

The company says it will be working on adding import/export features to more of its products like Google Sites, and Google Docs (batch-export) in the coming months.

“We think open is better than closed — not because closed is inherently bad, but because when it’s easy for users to leave your product, there’s a sense of urgency to improve and innovate in order to keep your users,” says Fitzpatrick. “When your users are locked in, there’s a strong temptation to be complacent and focus less on making your product better.”

Google’s certainly not the only company to offer data portability options, but it’s a very large one that has a huge impact on a lot of users and businesses. That’s why Google’s work in this area is so important. The company’s broad range of products that are used heavily on a daily basis emphasizes the importance of the issue on the web in general. Tired of Gmail going down? You can take your info elsewhere if you wish.

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