Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, has assessed the state of today’s internet, and is not happy with what he sees.
For starters, he believes that people have no control over their data: The Facebooks and Googles can do whatever they want with it. So the elder statesman has come up with an idea that some observers are calling the internet of the future: a sort of decentralized internet.
Berners-Lee has started a company called Inrupt. Its signature product, Solid, allows individuals to store their data, including email addresses and social media activity, in a Solid POD (personal online data store). And nobody can touch it without permission.
It’s not yet clear whether email marketers will have to beg permission before sending emails to a Solid POD user. But they probably will. As the NextWeb advises consumers, “you’re in charge of API control over your POD, and the data doesn’t live on those companies’ servers.”
Berners-Lee says, “we have to do it now,” according to Fast Company’s Katrina Brooker. “It’s a historical moment.”
Brooker recently visited Berners-Lee in Inrupt’s office above a boxing gym in Boston, and was given a personal demonstration of the new offering — and one to come. “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,” she writes.
For one thing, Berners-Lee is working on a “way to create a decentralized version of Alexa, Amazon’s increasingly ubiquitous digital assistant,” Brooker continues. "He calls it Charlie. Unlike with Alexa, on Charlie people would own all their data. That means they could trust Charlie with, for example, health records, children’s school events, or financial records."
Will it work? Not everyone thinks it will.
"All my contacts currently live in Google’s cloud, and so do the contents of my multiple email inboxes,” writes Abhimanyu Ghoshal on the NextWeb. Am I supposed to export and migrate it all to PODs so I can use related apps for contact management and email on the Solid platform? And is it my responsibility to avoid issues like duplicate entries?”
That said, Solid has some people behind it, including Berners-Lee himself and partner John Bruce, creator of the Resilient data security platform, Brooker reports. The firm also has “a handful of on-staff developers contracted to work on the project; and a community of volunteer coders,” she writes.
Berners-Lee is not talking to Facebook or Google about this potential upending of their business model: “We are not asking their permission,” he says, according to Brooker.
Berners-Lee reportedly didn’t make a dime on the web, but that doesn’t seem to bother him. “You can’t propose that something be a universal space and at the same time keep control of it,” he asserts, according to the World Wide Web Foundation, the group he established in 2009 to “advance the open web as a public good and as basic right.”