If technology had its own version of People magazine, this week's cover story would involve pictures of Google and Facebook in opposing bubbles, looking angrily in each other's direction.
The battle is now over data portability. To summarize, about a week ago, Google said Facebook wasn't allowed to come over and play anymore. That is, because Facebook wouldn't let users take their data back out of Facebook, Google blocked them from importing the data to begin with, which they could in the past.
Facebook answered by posting instructions for a workaround. Google replied by saying Facebook would have been better off spending that time on personal improvement, by making it so users could get their data back out. I think next somebody called somebody else smelly, leading to two days ago, where as the Wall Street Journal put it, "Google has yet to offer a response to Facebook’s response to its response to Facebook’s response."
Humor aside, Google has an excellent point. And what happens today if you try to import your contacts is what Google should have done on day one. Rather than blocking you, they inform you and let you make the choice. You'll see a page title Trap my contacts now. A little snarky, but as you might have guessed by now, that doesn't really offend me. Then they tell you why you've been redirected there and give you the choice of whether or not you think you should give your data to a service that won't give it back.
To be fair, Facebook has made baby steps towards openness. They recently began letting you export a certain amount of your Facebook profile, including photos and videos, posts on your wall, all of your messages, and a text version of your friend list. To access it, click Account in the upper right, then Account Settings, and select Download Your Information.
In the midst of all this, Mike Vernal, a member of the Facebook engineering team, said to ComputerWorld:
Openness doesn't mean being open when it's convenient for you. We strongly hope that Google turns back its API and doesn't come up with yet another excuse to prevent their users from leaving Google products to use ones they like better instead."
He's right--openness is not just for when it's convenient. I hope they start listening to their own message.
As for Google, the more open they can be, the better. It's critical for a company that has as much data about so many of us as they do. If you're doubtful, and you have a Google account, take a look at your Google Dashboard. And for more information about your data and Google products, check out the Data Liberation Front.