Nearly 30 years ago, Tim Berners-Lee created the World Wide Web as a new way to distribute information and knowledge. Now in 2018, Berners-Lee is concerned the web he helped to create has become increasingly centralized and puts user information at risk.
On Sept. 28, Berners-Lee announced his new effort to help decentralize internet information with an open-source effort known as Solid, which is backed by a new startup called Inrupt.
"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," Berners-Lee wrote. "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."
Berners-Lee's dissatisfaction with the modern internet landscape is not new. Since at least 2004, the founder of the web has been involved in efforts to keep the web decentralized. As part of the web's 25th birthday in 2014, Berners-Lee also strongly advocated for keeping the web open.
While in the past Berners-Lee has stated his desire to keep the web open, he has still kept his day job at MIT and his commitments at the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). This time is different, as he is taking a sabbatical from MIT and stepping back from W3C to start Inrupt, which will lead the development and deployment of Solid.
What Is Solid?
In the modern internet, users don't always have full control on where data is stored, which is a model that Solid is aiming to change. At the core of Solid is the concept of the Solid POD, which is a repository of user data. The Solid Pod can be stored anywhere the user wants, be it their own system or with a cloud provider.
"You give people and your apps permission to read or write to parts of your Solid POD," the Solid documentation explains. "So whenever you’re opening up a new app, you don’t have to fill out your details ever again: they are read from your POD with your permission."
The Solid Pod is an attempt to protect user privacy, while also making it easier for developers to get user information without needing to build stand-alone systems to first collect that information.
As an open-source effort, code for running a Solid Pod server is freely available on Github. Inrupt is now also providing a free Solid Pod service.
"Together, Solid and Inrupt will provide new experiences benefitting every web user - and that are impossible on the web today," Berners-Lee wrote. "Where individuals, developers and businesses create and find innovative, life- and business-enriching applications and services. Where we all find trusted services for storing, securing and managing personal data."
Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at eWEEK and InternetNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.