Lower Transition Costs, Another Way To Thrill Users

In a previous post, I pointed out that having multiple Hotmail accounts is a bit of a pain.  This lead me to think about all the places we have some level of lock-in in our online life.  Getting my email out of my Gmail requires clunky setup of POP email.  Can I get that email into my new Hotmail account (rick@this-domain) ?  Not right now because I don’t have enough space, and I’m not certain if I can setup Hotmail to retrieve POP.  I could setup Outlook express with a POP connection to Gmail, and a Webdav to Hotmail, and then…  We’ve already gone way past what a “normal user” is going to be willing to do. 

Here’s what I propose.  Hotmail, (MSN, Live.com, whoever you are now) could add an option to import Gmail, Yahoo! Mail, and any other service that has a user-base that Hotmail would like to have for its own.  They could make use of published API’s where possible, and use POP otherwise.  The kicker is, I want a wizard that everybody’s brother, sister, and grandma can use.  Just require a username & password.  Your servers can do the rest. 

Does this sound a little one-sided?  It does so far.  And Google, etc, could disrupt this functionality by changing APIs, blocking the Hotmail servers from using POP, many different ways.  How do you guard against this?  Provide open easy methods for people to transition _away_ from your service as well.  That way, if Yahoo! shuts you down, you can say: We’re providing a way for users to take their data with them, if you don’t do the same, you are mistreating your customers, and furthermore if you are disrupting their efforts to retrieve their own data, you are abusing your users.

What would be a good way to share this data back out?  Maybe Microsoft’s new SSE for RSS.  In the end, I can invision a utopia where I have an SSE link between my GMail and my various Hotmail accounts.  All of my email is in every account, and I can use whichever interface happens to be better this month.  All of my contacts sync back and forth.  Unread/Status information flows quickly and easily from one service to the other.  Consumers are happy because they have choice, and the services can compete on thier merits.  Maybe let me apply a filter to the SSE links too, so I’m in control of what information gets passed to each service.  Control & choices == good for consumers == happy consumers.

This same idea applies to RSS.  I know I can export/import opml with most services, but in my mind that doesn’t pass the “normal user” test either.  just let me build SSE links between the various clients.  It’ll make me a happy customer.