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Monday, February 15, 2021

Tim Berners Lee created the web. Now he’s out to remake the digital world.

Tim Berners Lee is lately busy thinking over following questions:
  • The Internet Hasn’t Lived Up to Expectations, What is the Way Forward?
  • The internet was supposed to be an infrastructure that gave everyone access to self-actualize and create value no matter how competitive it became, but we are failing at that.

Let's note that the beauty of the web is that it is not just a solution or digital product, but it was invented as an infrastructure for other internet related solutions to be built upon, and it hasn’t really failed in that regards as we have seen the rise of various software solutions, mobile apps, websites, artificial intelligence, and the likes. The web has become a hub for people to create various forms of value even as technology and the internet continue to penetrate into every aspect of human life.

As people began to create imaginative solutions and platforms, the battle to stand out and lead various business categories, trumped the initial purpose of the internet as the web has now been dominated by certain gatekeepers and the various value chain is now being manipulated to the benefits of a selected few. There are various factors that have contributed to the present toxic and unhealthy state of the internet but they all seem to revolve around these three factors: access to the value in the ecosystem, data control, and market monopoly.

But now, Berners-Lee, 65, believes the online world has gone astray. Too much power and too much personal data, he said, reside with tech giants like Google and Facebook — “silos” is the generic term he favors, instead of referring to the companies by name. Fueled by vast troves of data, he said, they have become surveillance platforms and gatekeepers of innovation.

Releasing his creation for free 30 years ago, the inventor of the world wide web, Tim Berners-Lee, famously declared: “this is for everyone”. Today, his invention is used by billions – but it also hosts the authoritarian crackdowns of antidemocratic governments, and supports the infrastructure of the most wealthy and powerful companies on Earth.

Now, in an effort to return the internet to the golden age that existed before its current incarnation as Web 2.0 – characterised by invasive data harvesting by governments and corporations – Berners-Lee has devised a plan to save his invention.

This involves his brand of “data sovereignty” – which means giving users power over their data – and it means wrestling back control of the personal information we surrendered to big tech many years ago.

Berners-Lee’s latest intervention comes as increasing numbers of people regard the online world as a landscape dominated by a few tech giants, thriving on a system of “surveillance capitalism” – which sees our personal data extracted and harvested by online giants before being used to target advertisements at us as we browse the web.

The idea behind solid is to create a platform where every user of the web can create their own Personal Online data stores(Pods) that would be used to store their personal and private data and be used to regulate the way any service provider can use these data; an individual can host this data on a solid server with their personalized access to the data that is used to decide if software applications can read or write on the data, therefore, the user has total control over his/her data and does not have to worry about leaving any data behind whenever they delete a mobile app as the app cannot store their data but can only read or write on it.

The company (Inrupt is responsible for Solid), is already receiving positive responses as it claims that there are already is 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.

Others say the Solid-Inrupt technology is only part of the answer. “There is lots of work outside Tim Berners-Lee’s project that will be vital to the vision,” said Kaliya Young, co-chair of the Internet Identity Workshop, whose members focus on digital identity.

Berners-Lee said that his team was not inventing its own identity system, and that anything that worked could plug into its technology.

Inrupt faces a series of technical challenges, but none that are “go-to-the-moon hard,” said Bruce Schneier, a well-known computer security and privacy expert, who has joined Inrupt as its chief of security architecture. And Schneier is an optimist. “This technology could unlock an enormous amount of innovation,” potentially becoming a new platform as the iPhone was for smartphone apps, he said.

“I think this stands a good chance of changing how the internet works,” he said. “Oddly, Tim has done it before."