A while back at a party someone asked “Why can’t I look at a balance sheet on my phone?”. I took the questions serious but there just was too much in the answer for that time and context.

This is about proprietary file formats, ways to structure information only known by those who make the software to read it. For example, Adobe Photoshop uses a proprietary format to store information on the layers and effects that make up an image. Business software relies on proprietary formats for security reasons.

And it’s not just about balance sheets or your firm’s ERP data, it’s about a bunch of things in your personal life. With so many apps and ways to store our information we need open formats in order to be able to have the freedom to switch or move from one software to the other without losing data along the way. Closed and open formats to store information are found in files and in the cloud.

If you want your app or your service to be truly valuable, you need to allow your users to import and export their information. And there is a lot to gain in user behaviour when you opt for open formats.

What this has to do with running

I like to run and I began on my own, tracking my runs with the Nike+ app on my phone. It lets me keep track on much I have ran, how fast, in what time at what climb. It’s not that I am addicted to numbers or to running longer and faster each and every time, I use this information to keep myself motivated to run regularly.

The other day I managed to keep going for a full hour, 9.39km. It was amazing!

Part of me wanted to share it with everyone, including people who don’t use the Nike+ App or Runkeeper. And this is where It gets tricky. I can give you the link for my Runkeeper activity, and I can link to Nike+ but there is no way for me to embed the map here. Even exporting and importing this information between the two systems is a pain. Nike and Runkeeper keep my information in a closed format, fortunately some runners put their free time to use and built tools to allow for export of the data from Nike’s servers and both companies are making an effort to open their (my) data.

So, this is not just about being able to open files in any software, or allowing us to import or export our data in the cloud, but also to about letting us embed it on other online channels. You know, the places where we actually want to share and talk with friends. Blogs, facebook, tumblr.

Twitter, saw the benefit in allowing us to embed the information from tweets into other sites:

Even Facebook is opening up the possibility to embed posts outside of their service. Other services, like IFTTT allow you to automatically publish your content across channels and to pull and push information at will to make your life easier.

And what if I wanted to share with you the music I was listening to during my run? Then we would be moving into another problem of copyright and of the extent to which we actually own the songs we buy. And we all want to share the songs we love with our friends, through a smartphone or a computer, a website or a record player and a million other ways to listen to music.

Mixtape I by Orelha Negra