Data portability is a big issue. None of us want to get locked down with a particular vendor. All the free web apps like GMail, JotSpot, Writely, et al come with a price — your data is in a proprietary data store. If you are not using pop3 and want to migrate from GMail to some other cool new email application, then there is no easy way out. The vendors rely on the lock-in of this data. For example, Google is offering E-mail services for SMB — what if you grow into a larger enterprise tomorrow and wanna have your own e-mail environment. There is no easy migration. Same goes for other next generation hosted applications like spreadsheets, wikis, office application. For a long time vendors rallied against Microsoft for proprietary formats — Talk about this one!
What’s the solution then? As Fred Wilson mentions:
I think anyone who provides a web app should give users options for where the data gets stored. The default option should always be to store the data on the web app provider’s servers. Most people will choose that option because they don’t care enough about this issue to do anything else.
I think we need a new breed of web applications which have pluggable storage. For example, all you get from a next generation GMail is a presentation and business logic layer. You get an ability to choose your data storage. It should work the way other desktop based applications work — You photo organizing software does not have data store attached to it, all it has a tonnes of logic and uses the file system. You can switch to another application and take care of the business.