When users get what they want from you quickly and easily, they’re more likely to come back next time. (Shh. Don’t tell anyone else this vital secret.) Part of that is feeling that they aren’t “trapped”–that they can leave you behind if they want.
That’s why I was happy about Eric Schmidt’s quote from the Web 2.0 conference last year. He spoke against trapping users’ data so that they can’t get to it. Dan Farber covered the interview:
“We build a very good targeting engine and a lot of business success has come from that. We run the company around the users–so as long as we are respecting the rights of end users and make sure we don’t do anything against their interest, we are fine,” Schmidt said. He noted that history has shown that the downfall of companies can be doing things for their own self interest. “We would never trap user data,” he said.
Schmidt was asked if users could get all of their search history and export it to Yahoo. “We would like to do that, as long as it is authenticated….If users can switch it keeps us honest.”
(emphasis mine) I love that Eric said this. It echoes the “send your users away happy and they’ll come back” philosophy. It also gives guidance to teams at Google.
So I started making a list of the ways that Google lets you access your data:
- Gmail. This one’s easy. Google provides free POP access so that anyone can fetch their email out of Gmail.
- Search. If you sign in with your Google account to search, Google can offer not only personalized search but also let you retrieve your search history. Mihai Parparita did some digging a while ago, for example. The ability to securely access your search history as an RSS feed is documented in our help pages now. For example, the url https://www.google.com/searchhistory/?output=rss works very well if you’re logged into your Google account. You’ll get an RSS feed back like this:
I believe you can add things like “&num=250″ so that you don’t have to access 10 items at a time either. This feature is secured by password-protection (you have to be logged in), but it provides a nice way to access your own searches. Oh, and don’t forget to try out your personal search trends. If you’re logged in, the url is http://www.google.com/psearch/trends and you’ll get all sorts of neat data like your most frequent searches, clicks, and when you tend to search:
Okay, enough about search. Let’s look at some other products that let you get to your data easily.
- Google Docs and Spreadsheets let you export your stuff in more formats than I know: Word, Rich Text Format, CSV, HTML, XLS (Excel), and PDF. Even one I didn’t know: .ods? Ah, OpenOffice. Nice.
- Google Calendar. Also easy. From its launch, Google calendar has allowed iCal (.ics) and RSS export of calendar data.
- Google Talk uses the open XMPP protocol. The VoIP part of Google Talk is done with Jingle, another open protocol that Google helped with. I like that our IM chat is open to other clients, so you can talk from iChat and GAIM to Trillian Pro and Blackberries.
- Google Reader easily exports your list of feeds in OPML format, and can import OPML files as well.
- Blogger. Blogger can export data via FTP or SFTP and backup your blog.
- Google AdWords. I don’t use AdWords myself, but Google provides a free application called the AdWords Editor, and its features include a snapshot export feature: “Save a delimited file with your AdWords account information and show it to a colleague or keep it for reference.” So I’m assuming it’s not too hard to suck down your AdWords info. Yup, a couple minutes of searching found references to importing your Google ad campaigns into Microsoft and Yahoo.
- Google Groups. I was dreading checking on this one. Back in August, someone wrote to me and said “I run a Google Group with 7,500+ subscribers and I need to download the subscriber list, but I don’t see an option for that.” It turns out that we didn’t offer that as a feature back in August. We were able to help the fellow, but it didn’t sound like an often-requested feature, so I didn’t think the Groups team had gotten a chance to do this. But I checked and it looks like the Groups team got a chance to add this. Yay! For a group I owned, I clicked “Manage” and then “Browse membership list.” At the bottom right will be a button “Export member list” and clicking that will download a comma-separated value (CSV) file.
- Let’s see, where else can you store data at Google? Ah, a Custom Search Engine. There’s even a bookmarklet to let you add sites to your custom search engine as you surf the web. Can you get your entire list of sites exported from your Custom Search Engine? Yup. Go to your search engine’s control panel and click on the “Advanced” tab. You’ll get options to download your sites in XML or tab-separated value (TSV) file format.
- Lots of products like Google Analytics and the Google Webmaster Console also give options to export data in various formats.
Okay, so looking down this list, it looks like Google does pretty well in offering open access to your data, at least for all the important services that I checked. If you know of some way that Google doesn’t let you download your data, please feel free to mention it. I like that Eric said this, because it’s a really nice precedent to set.