The initiative's goal is to let MySpace members share their public profile data outside of the walls of the social-networking site.
"Today, MySpace no longer operates as an autonomous island on the internet, by allowing the data that creates the engaging and collaborative experience that is MySpace to now be shared across all the sites our users visit," said Chris DeWolfe, CEO and cofounder of MySpace, during a press conference.
As the popularity of social networks keeps rising and people set up multiple profiles in such sites, they are demanding the ability to carry their data, content and connections from one site to another, so that they don't have to re-enter all that information again.
This is what the MySpace initiative aims to address, DeWolfe said. "Your personal online social profile will become your internet address. Social activity isn't about creating a walled garden. Socially dynamic web destinations should be portable and allow users to import and export aspects of their platform," he said.
The functionality will become available at some point in the coming weeks to both users and third-party sites. At the core will be privacy and security controls so that users retain tight control over what data they share and in which site.
"The initiative is founded first and foremost on allowing users to have comprehensive control over their own content and data. Users will have complete control over what information they share and who they share it with," said MySpace Chief Operating Officer Amit Kapur.
Data and content that users will be able to carry outside of MySpace will include public basic profile information, like their bios, interests, favorite music and movies, as well as their photos and videos.
Changes made to these elements on their MySpace profiles will be dynamically updated on the third-party sites. This also includes decisions to drop a site from their network of updates, which is key to privacy and security principles, MySpace officials said.
"Rather than populating new profiles and updating information across every website... users can now update their status on MySpace and dynamically share that information with the other sites they care about," Kapur said.
MySpace will make this functionality available not only to large websites like the initial partners, but to sites of all sizes, including "mom-and-pop" ones with little technical know-how.
The main tool for MySpace members will be a control panel where they'll be able to manage their "data availability" parameters. The granularity of the controls in this panel will increase over time. Meanwhile, MySpace will also release client-side and server-side tools based on open standards for third-party websites that want to participate.
Part of the initiative includes MySpace's joining of the DataPortability Workgroup. Data availability is MySpace's first step toward embracing all aspects of data portability, said Jim Benedetto, MySpace's senior vice president of technology.
Another major step would be for MySpace to allow members to bring in data and content that they have entered into other sites, making the exchange bidirectional, said MySpace Senior Vice President of Product Strategy Steve Pearman in an interview after the press conference.
"To the extent that other sites follow the path of data availability, giving users a very clean way to both share and control what's shared, it's all for the good. The more open we can all be, it's an all-boats-rise scenario, and it's just good for the social web generally," he added.
While data portability is probably more resonant among tech-savvy users, regular users will recognise and appreciate its usefulness, he said.
"The announcement today helps move data portability into the future, because a regular user will think about this from an application perspective rather than a theory perspective. If you put an application in their hands that shows how fun, helpful and powerful this type of technology can be, it helps move us all forward into what the industry generally sees as a really good direction," Pearman said.
Asked whether MySpace was concerned that making its data portable might loosen its grip on its users, Pearman said the opposite would be true. "The time of walled gardens is behind us all," he said. "The internet will always be a competitive market, and if a time comes for users to pick, we think they'll pick us, because the more we can do to make [their overall web experience] enriching, the more likely folks will continue to be passionate about MySpace."
Asked whether Facebook would be welcome to participate in this initiative, DeWolfe said that the rival social network would indeed be able to participate, as well as any other site on the web that's interested.