Web Pioneer Lays Out Ambitious Plan to Disrupt Digital World Order

A. DeCarlo
A. DeCarlo

Summary Bullets:

  • Consumers’ unease with the misinformation, disinformation, and mishandling of personal digital data is driving new regulations and investment in developing new ways to protect content.
  • Inrupt, a startup founded by Tim Berners-Lee, wants to shake up the status quo with technology that will effectively decentralize the web and put more control in the hands of end users.

Twenty-nine years after the first successful Internet transmission using Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP), the protocol’s developer, Tim Berners-Lee, wants to disrupt the web status quo. In an effort to address mounting concerns about privacy on the web, Berners-Lee is forging a path to return control over data access and storage to end users. Berners-Lee’s new startup, Inrupt, is pushing for adoption of an open source platform which could, if widely implemented, effectively decentralize the web. The platform, known as ‘Solid,’ takes aim at the current digital data model in which a relatively small number of dominant web players maintain significant access and storage control over the majority of end-user information.

In the Solid scheme, end users retain all of their digital data in so-called personal online data stores, or ‘pods.’ End users can have multiple pods, organizing data in categories, e.g. business and personal, which will be stored on web servers running on the Solid platform. Users can maintain their own servers in their home or office, or they can tap third-party providers (including Inrupt) to manage the Solid server.

Berners-Lee began outlining his vision for Solid at the turn of the century in writings for the World Wide Web Consortium. Three years ago, Mastercard underwrote funding for the Solid project at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where Berners-Lee is a professor.

Earlier this year, Berners-Lee launched Inrupt to distribute the Solid platform. In a year where consumers are increasingly disillusioned with the way their data is handled by leading digital players including Facebook, Amazon, and Google, the timing is fortuitous. So far, Inrupt has attracted more than 40,000 developers to Solid.

Some advocates have positioned Solid as an Amazon/Facebook/Google slayer, but its impact, and its success, will depend on many factors: How effective will developers be in crafting compelling applications that will drive distribution to end users? And as weary as consumers are about the mishandling of their data by companies which they almost blindly entrusted with their information, are they really ready to take on the responsibility that comes with maintaining security themselves?

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