Google unlocks data restrictions, announces Data Liberation efforts

Google is launching a new initiative called Data Liberation, an approach to engineering that allows users to move their data from Google's servers to any other location.

This is a guest post from Sam Diaz of TechRepublic's sister site ZDNet. You can follow Sam on his ZDNet blog Between the Lines, or subscribe to the RSS feed.

Google is unlocking its data door by launching a new initiative called Data Liberation, an approach to engineering that allows users to move their data - be it pictures, mail or documents - from Google's servers to any other location.

In a blog post, Data Liberation engineering manager Brian Fitzpatrick, uses a good analogy to explain why the company sees this is an important step:

Imagine you want to move out of your apartment. When you ask your landlord about the terms of your previous lease, he says that you are free to leave at any time; however, you cannot take all of your things with you - not your photos, your keepsakes, or your clothing. If you're like most people, a restriction like this may cause you to rethink moving altogether. Not only is this a bad situation for you as the tenant, but it's also detrimental to the housing industry as a whole, which no longer has incentive to build better apartments at all. Although this may seem like a strange analogy, this pretty accurately describes the situation my team, Google's Data Liberation Front, is working hard to combat from an engineering perspective.

It wasn't so long ago that Facebook took a bit of a PR hit when the company changed its terms and services to basically give "ownership" of user data to Facebook - or at least that's how it was perceived. Since then, the idea of users keeping data behind a locked Internet door that they don't hold the keys to has become a buzz point. Yahoo, when it announced its new home page last month, was quick to note how it was enabling users to pull data from other Web properties and view it from the Yahoo home page.

Apparently, it's hip to be open these days. Fitzpatrick's post continues:

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. When your users are locked in, there's a strong temptation to be complacent and focus less on making your product better.

The company has already liberated about half of its products - from Blogger to Gmail - and has plans to liberate Google Sites and Google Docs, with batch exports, in the coming months. The company has also launched a separate site to further explain its data liberation efforts.