This week Microsoft made data portability news by announcing a partnership with five of largest social networks to allow users to export their contacts from Windows Live directly into those services. Partner networks include Facebook, LinkedIn, Bebo, Hi5 and Tagged (the Facebook export works now, with the others coming soon). Underneath the covers the integration is based on the Windows Live Contacts API and in conjunction with the announcement Microsoft has launched www.invite2messenger.net where users can invite friends from partner social networks to join their Windows Live Messenger contact list.
The stated objective is to create a "secure two-way street" in which users control how and when their data is shared:
We think customers should be able to share their data in the most safe and secure way possible, but historically this openness has been achieved largely through a mechanism called “screen-scraping,” which unduly puts customers at risk for phishing attacks, identity fraud, and spam. Now with the Windows Live Contacts API, we have provided an alternative to “screen-scraping” that is equally open but unequivocally safer and more secure for customers.
Certainly screen scraping is an anti-pattern that's gotten a lot of attention recently. And it's become such a common way for sites to access users' contacts that it's created a good business for companies who provide address book scraping libraries like Octazen Solutions.
Moves like this from Microsoft and Google's recently launched Contacts API are solid steps along the path to interoperability of social network data. For more lively discussion on this topic there's the upcoming Data Sharing Summit and Workshop on April 18-19th in SF and Mountain View on May 15th.