Tim Berners-Lee, the founder of the World Wide Web, thinks it’s broken and he has a plan to fix it. The British computer scientist has announced a new project that he hopes will radically change his creation by giving people full control over their data. Tim Berners-Lee: This is why I have, over recent years, been working with a few people at MIT and elsewhere to develop Solid, an open-source project to restore the power and agency of individuals on the web. Solid changes the current model where users have to hand over personal data to digital giants in exchange for perceived value. As we’ve all discovered, this hasn’t been in our best interests. Solid is how we evolve the web in order to restore balance — by giving every one of us complete control over data, personal or not, in a revolutionary way. Solid is a platform, built using the existing web. It gives every user a choice about where data is stored, which specific people and groups can access select elements, and which apps you use. It allows you, your family and colleagues, to link and share data with anyone. It allows people to look at the same data with different apps at the same time. Solid unleashes incredible opportunities for creativity, problem-solving and commerce. It will empower individuals, developers and businesses with entirely new ways to conceive, build and find innovative, trusted and beneficial applications and services. I see multiple market possibilities, including Solid apps and Solid data storage.
Solid is guided by the principle of “personal empowerment through data” which we believe is fundamental to the success of the next era of the web. We believe data should empower each of us. Imagine if all your current apps talked to each other, collaborating and conceiving ways to enrich and streamline your personal life and business objectives? That’s the kind of innovation, intelligence and creativity Solid apps will generate. With Solid, you will have far more personal agency over data — you decide which apps can access it. In an interview with Fast Company, he shared more on Solid and its creation: “I have been imagining this for a very long time,” says Berners-Lee. He opens up his laptop and starts tapping at his keyboard. Watching the inventor of the web work at his computer feels like what it might have been like to watch Beethoven compose a symphony: It’s riveting but hard to fully grasp. “We are in the Solid world now,” he says, his eyes lit up with excitement. He pushes the laptop toward me so I too can see. On his screen, there is a simple-looking web page with tabs across the top: Tim’s to-do list, his calendar, chats, address book. He built this app — one of the first on Solid — for his personal use. It is simple, spare. In fact, it’s so plain that, at first glance, it’s hard to see its significance. But to Berners-Lee, this is where the revolution begins. The app, using Solid’s decentralized technology, allows Berners-Lee to access all of his data seamlessly — his calendar, his music library, videos, chat, research. It’s like a mashup of Google Drive, Microsoft Outlook, Slack, Spotify, and WhatsApp. The difference here is that, on Solid, all the information is under his control. Every bit of data he creates or adds on Solid exists within a Solid pod — which is an acronym for personal online data store. These pods are what give Solid users control over their applications and information on the web. Anyone using the platform will get a Solid identity and Solid pod. This is how people, Berners-Lee says, will take back the power of the web from corporations.
Starting this week, developers around the world will be able to start building their own decentralized apps with tools through the Inrupt site. Berners-Lee will spend this fall crisscrossing the globe, giving tutorials and presentations to developers about Solid and Inrupt. “What’s great about having a startup versus a research group is things get done,” he says. These days, instead of heading into his lab at MIT, Berners-Lee comes to the Inrupt offices, which are currently based out of Janeiro Digital, a company he has contracted to help work on Inrupt. For now, the company consists of Berners-Lee; his partner John Bruce, who built Resilient, a security platform bought by IBM; a handful of on-staff developers contracted to work on the project; and a community of volunteer coders. Later this fall, Berners-Lee plans to start looking for more venture funding and grow his team. The aim, for now, is not to make billions of dollars. The man who gave the web away for free has never been motivated by money. Still, his plans could impact billion-dollar business models that profit off of control over data. It’s not likely that the big powers of the web will give up control without a fight.