It seems that Jason is annoyed because he's run into something that's rampant in the on-line services world: lock-in.

I get a lot of inbound email and I like to upload those contacts to LinkedIn every couple of months so I can figure out which of my contacts are in there. However, as best I can tell (and I could be wrong here) the only way to get your contacts out of GMAIL is to cut and paste the “All Contacts” sheet. That is so broke… I mean, how much work would it take for Google to put a “Save .CSV or Excel” file link? You could write that code in like two seconds.

Uhm... surprise?

Seriously, this may be purely an oversight in the case of the GMail (BETA) interface. After all, it's a beta. They'll add/fix stuff. But it's hardly surprising to see this sort of thing. Givng a user the ability to collect all their marbles and go home is a scary thing for some companies and their product managers (or the business folks who really pull the strings).

You can't get an OPML export of your My Yahoo! subscriptions either. Someday it'll probably happen, but for now there's no easy way to get that data either.

There are countless examples of this on-line. GMail and My Yahoo! are hardly the worst out there. What's the worst you've seen?

Posted by jzawodn at June 11, 2005 08:04 PM

Reader Comments
# Al said:
on June 11, 2005 08:11 PM
# Dave Dash said:

This is my fear with any of the sites I want to use actively.

Flickr's nice, because my source for the most part is iPhoto.

But other things like wedding sites (, genealogy sites or wish list sites, they are still in that web app 1.0 stage where they don't have cool APIs and such to extract what you need.

I'm at the point where if a site doesn't mention RSS, I'm reluctant to use it.

on June 11, 2005 09:08 PM
# Hashim said:

every single social networking site locks in. Every one. It's rough getting all your friends to sign up to friendster, only to ask to to sign into myspace months later.

on June 11, 2005 09:50 PM
# Jeremy Zawodny said:

Ahh, excellent point. They all tend to suck hard in the lock-in game.

on June 11, 2005 09:54 PM
# Jay said:

I read Jason's post and share the frustration. Right now, the only thing that seems to work reliably is Plaxo for maintaining contact information as a lowest common bi-directional denominator. Not that Plaxo is perfect... but it is getting darn close.

However, I expect that the lack of such features will ultimately backfire even if you don't attribute to malice.

LinkedIn has a very Microsoft bent so far to manage contacts. Though, I do like and use the Firefox Extensions... pity this does nothing for the export/management of my contact lists.

on June 11, 2005 11:58 PM
# Josh Elman said:

Responding to Jay's comments:

We just launched a new feature that supports exporting your entire contacts list. Check it out at ("Export all connections" is found near the bottom of your list). Thanks for the positive comments on the Firefox extensions :)

on June 12, 2005 01:16 AM
# Josh Elman said:

Responding to Jay's comments:

We just launched a new feature that supports exporting your entire contacts list. Check it out at ("Export all connections" is found near the bottom of your list). Thanks for the positive comments on the Firefox extensions :)

-Josh Elman
Sr. Product Manager @ LinkedIn

on June 12, 2005 01:17 AM
# Hanan Cohen said:

Jeremy, you were very modest in not pointing out the amazing contacts export service of Yahoo! Mail, so I will do this for you. AMAZING!

on June 12, 2005 01:36 AM
# eric scheid said:

At LinkedIn I had noticed the per connection vCard thing just yesterday ... and now I see the Export All Contacts. Wonderful :-)

on June 12, 2005 01:45 AM
# Ben Nolan said:

If you can export as LDIF, you can import it to - where you can sort your contacts by tags. FOAF/RSS export as well.

on June 12, 2005 02:05 AM
# matthew said:

on the other side is, which lets you leave at any time with all your information.

on June 12, 2005 06:49 AM
# DeWitt Clinton said:

This is exactly the reason applications such as Flickr's rich web services API are representative of the best of what Web 2.0 has to offer. In fact, it is also precisely why we are working on a new project to build a distributed application for the publishing and sharing of wiki-like note data. (If you are interested in participating, you can find details about the new project at

Web 2.0 is about giving up control in return for gaining trust. I just hope that more companies begin to figure this out...

on June 12, 2005 08:25 AM
# Adam said:

I noticed that Feedburner also offers an easy and thoughtful way for people to leave the service and have their feeds redirected from FB back to their original feeds for a month. That's pretty decent.

on June 12, 2005 01:47 PM
# Jay said:

Josh: Outstanding!

on June 12, 2005 03:38 PM
# Danny said:

I believe LiveJournal, Ecadamy and all provide relationship data as FOAF (to be more precise, as a RESTful Web service, i.e. a GET on specific URIs).

But surely this shouldn't be about import/export, or even about services at the end of a thin pipe. We should be able to dynamically connect Gmail to LinkedIn to Flickr and get benefits that are the *product* of the combined services, not the sum or difference. Tools that use FOAF do have a little head start, using a shared data model (that of RDF).

on June 12, 2005 04:35 PM
# vanderwal said:

Amazon really bugs me with their lock on "my wishlist" and my list of products I own.

on June 12, 2005 06:29 PM
# Dan Kearns said:

I would love to take my movie vote tallies from the IMDB and transfer them to the Yahoo Movie Recommendation engine! Even a simple RSS from the IMDB would be nice.

on June 12, 2005 07:20 PM
# John said:

Yahoo's Email is a pretty good example of lock-in since you can't delete your email account. Once you have given away your yahoo email address, you are forced to come back and check it once in a while because someone might have emailed you there...

Very annoying.

on June 13, 2005 03:46 AM
# Stickan said:

Some companies is not afraid that the users are going to pack up and leave. export formats

Furl XML format
Zip archive of your saved documents

Internet Explorer favorites format
Mozilla/Netscape bookmarks format

MLA citation format
APA citation format
Chicago citation format
CBE citation format
BibTeX citation format
RIS/EndNote citation format

on June 14, 2005 07:08 AM
# Allen said:

The worst lockin effect I've experienced in recent years is with Don't get me wrong, I love backpack -- but I have a tendency to get a bit fed up with the developer's snide-seeming dismissive attitude toward users requesting features they don't feel fit their scheme.

At any rate, backpack is a great service and they provide an xml export of all your data . . . but the export is largely useless. It doesn't export the individual modules in formats that could be imported elsewhere (for example todo lists and reminders can't be exported into ical or any other format importable into another service. To make matters worse, you can't even import your export back into backpack. You can export a raw xml file, but unless you're a programmer willing to devote time to extracting all the data from the xml file, it's stuck. There have been a few cases of users accidentally deleting their accounts when using an offline website downloader (the account deletion doesn't require a password, just a few clicks to confirm) -- had they the foresight to export their data, they still wouldn't have any way of importing it. It's lockin with an export tease to make you feel all the more stuck. "Great, I've got this file and nothing to do with it. D'oh!"

on January 20, 2006 05:57 PM
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