Changing the delivery of IT

Tony Bishop

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Related Topics: Open Cloud Collaboration

e-Collaboration: Opinion

Command Your Data

Or, how eagerly we give away control of our digital lives

First, our knowledge went online with Wikipedia. Next, our social life followed with XING, LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. Amazon taught us how easy shopping can be online and Google search quickly gets us what we need to know and where we want to go.

We've learned to rely on our helpers on the Internet - but can we trust them? We are at risk of losing control over our own data.

All of us use them -- social networks and free, or mostly free, web services -- because they are as useful as they are practical. A professional life without XING and LinkedIn - inconceivable to many. Friendships without Facebook - once upon a time. When we register with a new service, we want to be able to use it right away - and rarely do we bother studying the Terms and Conditions. Why should we anyway? After all, millions of other users already agreed to the same terms - and surely someone else must have studied them carefully.

Looking closely however, we do find noteworthy "terms" in the Terms and Conditions of our favorite services. For instance, we give Facebook permission "to use your name and profile picture in connection with that content, subject to the limits you place" [1]. After all, they want to make money with commercials.

Considerably more troubling is the following:"LinkedIn further reserves the right to withhold, remove and or discard any content available as part of your account, with or without notice if deemed by LinkedIn to be contrary to this Agreement. For avoidance of doubt, LinkedIn has no obligation to store, maintain or provide you a copy of any content that you or other Users provide when using the Services." [2]

Google also takes the liberty to "filter, modify, refuse or remove any or all Content" [3]. With this, it almost doesn't matter anymore that Google, "in its sole discretion, may use your trade names, trademarks, service marks, logos, domain names and other distinctive brand features in presentations, marketing materials, customer lists, financial reports and Web site listings".

Scare Tactics or Entitled Concern?
That all depends. As long as the web services function as they're supposed to function, everything is ok. But if (as actually happened a couple of weeks ago) - without any warning, our CTO's complete LinkedIn account and network were shut down -- it shows our dependency and our powerlessness.

If any private data is lost this way, it hurts. But it is simply irresponsible to solely rely on Google Mail and Google Docs with crucial business data and documents. We have to be able, at any time, to save contact data, e-mails, and documents important to us from the corresponding web applications, to any backup medium - a USB flash drive, a DVD or off-premises backup service - so that we can use this data independently of the corresponding web service.

The Road to Freedom
Web applications are helpful and make our lives easier and yes, even fun at times. But shouldn't we also be able to remove our data from a service whenever we want. The solution, which we found at Open-Xchange, is called Microformats [4].

Microformats generate "tagged" HTML, which can be read and processed by machines and humans. With appropriate crawlers, it can extract, for example, addresses out of our own networks of XING or LinkedIn, import them to Open-Xchange, and load them onto the iPhone or other smartphones. Facebook, Google Mail, Yahoo, Hotmail address books could also be transferred the same way. Open-Xchange offers everyone who's interested, at http://ox.io, personalized test accounts where they can try out this function free of charge.

But, because we do not want users to substitute their old dependency with a new one, at oxmf.org, we have documented how we can, for example, "tag" addresses or documents, in order for them to be processed by different applications.

At the same time, we also solve the interoperability problem between different web applications. This way, for example, contact lists between SugarCRM and Open-Xchange can already be synchronized. In the next step, calendar and email of both applications will be synchronized. Because only when the sprockets of the different web applications for a "Web desktop" include a synchronized graphic surface, the Web apps will be a meaningful alternative to the desktop, as companies use them today. Provided we have a readable backup of data, of all web applications, in our closet.

[1]http://www.facebook.com/terms.php

[2] http://www.linkedin.com/static?key=user_agreement

[3] http://code.google.com/intl/en/appengine/terms.html

[4] http://microformats.org