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January 27, 2008

How Soon Until People Demand Link Blog Portability?

The issues of data portability and ownership reached a fever pitch when Robert Scoble famously got kicked off Facebook for 24 painful hours. Users debated forwards and backwards over whether he had wrongly tried to export data from his friends that he believed belonged to him, while the social network believed they had ownership. In the ensuing months, many of the largest Web firms have joined DataPortability.org, essentially promising you can import and export your data from one service or another, without being locked into a data silo.

Yet, while this is happening, some services are becoming increasingly important, and are completely immovable. Take Google Reader's shared link blogs for instance. Despite the great utility of the link blog, combining all your best-liked posts from the blogosphere in one place, the link blog lacks customization in look and feel, in URL, or in the ability, so far, to both input data from sources outside of Google Reader, or to export the data to a new format.

Recently, in part due to the Google Reader team's lack of attention, services dedicated to tabulating the popularity of shared link items have risen up, most notably the debut of ReadBurner and Shared Reader.

Additionally, there has been recent interest in adding individual posts to Google Reader link blogs, without requiring subscription. I touched on the idea last Wednesday, ReadBurner implemented it that afternoon, and Google Operating System debuted a work-around this Sunday.

What this tells me is that the value of the link blog is only going to increase over time. Yet, it only can be modified if you utilize Google Reader, and it can only be presented at a Google-selected URL. This is in contrast to the wide variety of options seen if you use the company's Blogger service, where you can either use their blogspot.com address, publish via FTP to a site you already own with your own domain name, or thirdly, buy your own domain name through Blogger.

I believe that as alternatives to Google Reader arise, and bloggers start to see the value in their own link blogs, there will be a desire to:
1. Use other blog services to publish RSS items to their link blog.
2. Add updates from other non-blog services (like Del.icio.us, Twitter, Digg) to their link blog, a la FriendFeed.
3. Move their link blogs to a custom domain.
4. Customize the link blogs to look like their own Web sites.
Today, Google's shared item link blogs offer non-intuitive URLs, a bare minimum of design, on a white background, with your Google profile, and are limited to RSS feeds via Google Reader.

While Google was one of the first to offer this service, and has the highest following, as attested by ReadBurner, I believe people will recognize the need to open up and offer flexibility between both competing and complementary services. As Google offered to be part of the data portability movement near the beginning of January, I sure hope this concept is on top of their list. If it's not, I wonder how long it will take until their users ask for it to be.