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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Microsoft to join Web 2.0 data portability group, says source contact-sharing organization reels in a big catch, the fast-emerging group that wants to make it easier for users to share their personal contacts between different Web 2.0 and social media services, has landed perhaps its biggest fish yet: Microsoft Corp.

Microsoft will officially announce its intention to join the international workgroup within a day or two, according to a source close to the matter.

Microsoft began talking to soon after Google Inc., Facebook Inc. and Plaxo Inc. all announced their support several weeks ago, said the source.

The working group counts 60 members, most representing Web 2.0 firms such as Yahoo Inc., LinkedIn, Twitter and SixApart.

Microsoft would seem to be the odd man out, not being part of the tight-knit Silicon Valley fraternity as well as a laggard in Web 2.0.

However, Microsoft is a stealth social networking giant, with more than 400 million users with accounts at Hotmail, Windows Live Messenger or both, according to an interview late last week with Adam Sohn, a director in Microsoft's online services business.

And in social media, Microsoft is a major player. According to Nielsen Online, visit statistics from last August, 2 Windows Live Spaces and MSN Groups together make Microsoft the second-largest social networking provider, behind MySpace but ahead of Facebook and Classmates Online as well as Google and Yahoo's efforts.

"Most major applications will probably be touched by social features in the coming years -- and no one has a broader distribution of applications and data than Microsoft," said the source.

Over the years, out in front

Microsoft has also been early in other efforts to make social media services play better together.

For instance, it pledged last February to back the OpenID Web authentication standard, a move Yahoo! did not make until last week.

OpenID promises to let users sign on once and be authenticated to log in to multiple Web sites.

And last May, Microsoft loosened its group on its Windows Live application programming interfaces (APIs), including its Windows Live Contacts API, through which outside services, when properly authenticated, can connect and securely download contact data from Hotmail or Windows Live Messenger users.

Google and Yahoo offer similar authorized APIs.

Any service with fewer than one million users is allowed to use the Windows Live Contacts API for free. Larger services are asked to pay a fee of 25 cents per user per year to cover Microsoft's costs, though Microsoft will waive that fee for services willing to integrate Windows Live Messenger or a Windows Live Search box onto their sites.

Still, Microsoft remains dogged by an anti-social reputation. Last Friday, reported that unnamed Silicon Valley social networking firms were accusing Microsoft of holding its users' personal contacts data hostage as leverage for partnership negotiations.

Unnamed startups told that they had even received legal threats from Microsoft.

"This is a great example of why Google is the leader in the Net ecosystem and Microsoft is not," one 'angry entrepreneur' told "Microsoft is the anti-data-portability company."

Sohn said that Microsoft had sent such letters only to companies that were bypassing its authorized API to "screenscrape" users' personal data.

Screenscraping, Scoble, and suits

Screenscraping involves services that log in to users' accounts at other services in order to take virtual snapshots of contact data such as names, e-mail addresses and birthdays.

It came to prominence earlier this month after prominent blogger (and former Microsoft employee) Robert Scoble was initially banned from Facebook after using such a service, Plaxo Pulse, to transfer his database of 5,000 Facebook friends to Plaxo in order to avoid retyping them.

Microsoft and Facebook may have hit a backlash by getting tough on screenscraping, but no social networking service condones it, according to Niall Kennedy, a San Francisco Web entrepreneur.

"When Google and Yahoo see this behavior, they're not happy with it, either," Kennedy said in an interview late last week, due to the threat of phishing-related data theft and invasions of privacy.

Snaring is caring? faces similar challenges convincing people that it is making data insecure for the sake of user convenience and choice.

"I have some issues with the [] slogan -- Sharing is Caring. It's not caring if your 'friends' don't want their data shared and you do anyway," wrote Redmonk analyst James Governor.

Others argue that Silicon Valley firms embracing are being too US-centric, failing to consider the tougher data privacy laws of the European Union.

Mozilla Corp.'s CEO expressed interest in joining last week.

But many holdouts remain. MySpace, which is the largest social networking site, is the most prominent. Others that have not joined include IBM, which operates the SameTime IM/unified communications platform, authentication provider VeriSign Inc., and enterprise software vendors Oracle Inc. and SAP AG.


WEB 2.0: Google CEO: Take your data and run

Google wants to make the information it stores for its users easily portable so they can export it to a competing service if they are dissatisfied, the company's CEO said Tuesday.

Making it simple for users to walk away from a Google service with which they are unhappy keeps the company honest and on its toes, and Google competitors should embrace this data portability principle, Eric Schmidt said at the Web 2.0 Conference in San Francisco.

If you look at the historical large company behavior, they ultimately do things to protect their business practices or monopoly or what have you, against the choice of the users," he said. "The more we can, for example, let users move their data around, never trap the data of an end user, let them move it if they don't like us, the better."

Schmidt, who answered questions from conference chair John Battelle and from audience members, also championed the hosted, software-as-service model, calling it superior to the packaged software model, a clear swipe at rival Microsoft

He has believed this for 20 years but only recently has PC and server technology and data center infrastructure become solid enough to make it feasible for people to access an application and its data remotely via the Internet, Schmidt said. "Finally now the architecture works," he said.

The hosted application model provides a more convenient experience for users because it is more robust and reliable and simpler to maintain. It also makes it easier for users to search for data across applications and share documents with each other, he said. Users also like that these applications are free, as opposed to the fee-based packaged software, he said.

This is why Google has entered this market with its word processing, calendaring, Web mail and spreadsheet hosted applications, Schmidt said. The company recently bought hosted wiki provider JotSpot.

However, he cautioned that Google's hosted applications aren't "an office suite" in the style of Microsoft's ubiquitous Office and that Google isn't trying to offer a replacement for the Microsoft suite. Google's hosted applications are intended to be an organic part of people's everyday lives, he said
Regarding Google's acquisition of YouTube, Schmidt said it is very likely Google will keep the video sharing site as a separate service, instead of merging it with the similar Google Video. The reason is that YouTube is very focused on the social networking and community aspect of video sharing, and Google wants it to retain that emphasis.

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