Is Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s Vision of a Vibrant Web Now Possible?

Yes, it’s possible now. And the Solid project would usher an era of data autonomy, security and transparency and most importantly it would gradually break down data monopoly.

Photo by Mika Baumeister on Unsplash

Tim Berners Lee is not just regarded by most as the father of the world wide web because he invented it in 1989, but also because of all his remarkable endeavours and actions to make sure that the world wide web remains the wonderful invention he envisioned it to be; after inventing the world wide web, he went on to found the World Wide Web Foundation (WWF), the Open Data Institute(ODI) and he currently heads the World Wide Web Consortium ( W3C ) which is currently regarded as the main international standards organization for the World Wide Web and is known for its engagement in education, outreach and open forum for discussions and engagement on issues about the web. His works with the WWF and ODI are also highly remarkable; as he uses both platforms for advocating for better usage of internet data and better policies for governing the usage of data by private entities and even the government and now he just launched a new project to solidify all his previous efforts to ensure that the web he created remains the transparent and open platform that he envisioned it, no wonder he called it ‘Solid’.

The Solid Project is the recent and major project by startup Inrupt, which was co-founded by Tim Berners Lee and John Bruce in 2018, Inrupt is based in Boston, Massachusetts with the sole mission of restoring ownership of data back to every web user. The idea behind solid is to create a platform where every user of the web can create “pods”(Personal Online data stores) to store all their personal data and decide how and to what capacity any application or digital service can use these data; an individual can host this data on a solid server with unique and personal access that can be granted to any application only to read or write on the data on the pod, the consequence of this is that asides the fact that everyone using the Solid pods can decide the data that an app can access, the individual does not need to worry about his/her data remaining with a service provider or application, because every application that uses this data cannot store the data but only read it, so when the user deletes an application there are no traces of that data with the application.

Hence, every algorithm on any application used by anyone using the solid ‘pods’, would calculate on the user database without the permission to export the data before using the algorithm for the user’s benefits, an example is maybe an eCommerce platform that can help you decide which clothes would match your taste: the previous model was that you as a user would have your necessary data on the platform, then when it is time for the in-built algorithm to help you make such a decision, the algorithm would leverage on your already stored data or recent activities to make the decision, but in the solid model, the algorithm would not have any access to any form of your previously stored data but would ask for access to the necessary data for that service, which in turn you as a solid user after giving it access, the algorithm can now run the calculation on your data but the e-commerce app would not be allowed to store the data.

The advantages of the Solid feature is not just limited to only everyday users of applications but also developers of user applications; the Solid platform firstly allows developers to easily develop applications without worrying too much about the back end application for managing database and it also makes them seem progressive because they are positioning themselves as service providers who understand the recent controversies and consequent scepticisms that users have about data privacy on the web while it also reduces their worries about hackers breaking onto their centralized database to access customer’s data.

The Data Problem

Data Privacy infringement is becoming one of the most consistent topics in the digital space with users(consumers) increasingly growing wary of how their data is being used by private firms and even the government. The problem stems from the fact that people no longer feel in control of how their data is being used in addition to the fact it may not always be secure from hackers when they give it out to private tech companies. The definition of modern-day user experience is for digital platforms to keep showing users what they would like to see even when most times users do not explicitly say it and the ability to make such predictions is considered great user experience, but users are becoming wary as to the end goal of this data leveraging and the apparent objectification of their personality and behaviour because almost every user knows that their data is being used most times as a source of revenue via targeted advertising. Therefore, the emergence of Solid as a platform to restore the initial purpose of the web when Tim Berbers founded it, must not be underestimated, the platform is designed to restore user data autonomy, transparency and security.

However, the success of the platform depends on a few conditions; firstly, there must be adoption by everyday users of the web — which is something that should be easy due to the recent uproar against data privacy infringement and coupled with the fact that solid is willing to give out the platform for free to users. Secondly, developers would most likely be willing to accept users who insist that their data can only be accessed via the solid platform, which is something that can also be very feasible as companies (especially startups) would want to come across as in support of individual data protection and would also want to make sure they do what’s best for their potential customers.

A New Era

The reality is, companies like Google, Amazon and Facebook would be reluctant to give their data power advantage, as their remarkable success is based on the ability to have built sophisticated data silos and networks but the hope is that the company(Inrupt) would be able to ride on the ever-increasing number of data-privacy conscious population and that it would usher in a new and progressive ecosystem, one that mirrors the initial purpose of the world wide web- an open place where one can create, connect and collaborate easily with a level playing field.

Indeed, it would be a new era, an era of data autonomy, security and transparency and most importantly one that would gradually break down the monopolistic structures put in place by some big tech giants due to data monopoly and the statement from John Bruce, co-founder of Solid, clearly points to the optimisms that Solid would be ushering a new era:

“In the web, as we envision it, entirely new businesses, ecosystems and opportunities will emerge and thrive, including hosting companies, application providers, enterprise consultants, designers and developers, everyday web users will find incredible value in new kinds of apps that are impossible on today’s web.”

Individuals who want to get a pod or developers who want to build their applications on the solid platform can access the solid project via solidproject.org, with the company already claiming that there are already 1200 new Solid community members, more than 30 open-source developers building apps on the platform and 60,000 developer accounts.


Is Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s Vision of a Vibrant Web Now Possible? was originally published in Data Driven Investor on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.