Sync is the new lock-in

I tried to run Firefox, instead of Chrome, yesterday.

But it felt so strange, because Firefox had none of my bookmarks, bookmarklets, passwords, and I just couldn't remember what I was going to do with it.

And in that moment I realized how much I depend on Chrome's sync feature. Chrome owns my browsing because of its fantastic ability to sync all this stuff between all my computers, PC, Mac, everywhere.

Dropbox contains tons of my important files, because it does the same thing.

And I've stopped buying music on Amazon because iCloud is so good at getting music to all my devices now.

Syncing is the bridge between the cloud and the PC and mobile devices. It saves dozens of steps, keeping everything merged intelligently, and even combining metadata automatically.

But of the three examples, only Dropbox provides a way to get to my data from anywhere, through a regular web browser, and with a good API that works with other services.

Google's Data Liberation page (which has a fantastic mission), has PC-era directions for moving your bookmarks to a new browser. You're supposed to sit at your computer and push an export button! And the  instructions provided about how you can view your bookmarks in Google Docs haven't worked for over a year. Google has moved Chrome bookmarks somewhere else now, and while users ask for a solution, none is forthcoming.

This "online viewing" should be a much bigger priority for Google. What if I mostly want to use Chrome, but I want to own my data and occasionally use it somewhere else?

Google has a separate delicious-like "bookmarks" service that appears to be completely different than Chrome's bookmarks. And while I really like social bookmarking sites too, I use them for a different purpose. In the browser, I use lots of bookmarklets and folders, and I really care about what order my commonly-accessed sites appear.

The New Lock-In

Of course, if you think about it, while you're sitting on the couch with your iPad, there is no way to get the  Chrome bookmarks exported from your Windows machine to show up in Mobile Safari. Part of this is Apple's fault, of course.

On the iPad, I can get to my Dropbox, but I can't get to my bookmarks.

And I think there's at least a partial solution in Dropbox: if you care about your users, every proprietary sync feature should have a live webpage, that you can access from anywhere. (And you should work hard at cross-platform support, too.)

Otherwise, like Apple and Google do today, you have created a new form of lock-in. And it's almost worse than the old kind.

In the old way, files were mostly idle on disk, and data was sort of stuck in a hard-to-parse format on a server.

But it is worse with data that changes all the time, because "exporting" isn't good enough. You can't export a moving target.

If you want to access your recent Chrome Bookmarks, you really need to write your own sync utility, or at least periodically export from Chrome.

I want  Google to do the right thing, and I want to use sync feature in Chrome, which is amazing. But maybe I will need to use XMarks instead. This feels complicated, hard to set up, and probably more prone to breaking than Google's solution, so I'm trying not to do it. But it may be the only solution available today.

Data that changes frequently is the hardest to "liberate", but it is also data that is very important to users. It is critical to get this right. We should insist that these amazingly-convenient sync features don't become the next form of vendor lock-in.

Google, at least give me a webpage with my Chrome bookmarks on it?

1 comment:

  1. While waiting for the feature of getting a live webpage of your bookmarks, writing an own sync utility may still be a good interim solution and not that hard (for coders).

    Shouldn't take more than a few lines of script to parse the JSON "Bookmarks"-file in your chrome profile data folder to something you need, and set that script to be run once a day + autoupload results somewhere.

    Of course this is a lot to do for anybody who isn't into that sort of thing, and a default solution would be nice to have. :)