If you've enrolled in a Computer Science degree or have attended some introductory lectures about the field of computer networks, you've probably heard the name Sir Tim Berners-Lee. For those unaware, he's the founder of the World Wide Web and the director of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), which is responsible for the development of the web. He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2004, and also received the ACM Turing Award in 2016.
Berners-Lee has now announced that he is working on a new project whose primary aim is to restore balance to the web by giving users more control over their data and privacy.
In a Medium post, the executive has emphasized that he's always believed that the web is for everyone. However, it is currently being exploited by powerful entities who want to harness its power for their own personal gains at the expense of the privacy of other users. To tackle this problem, Berners-Lee is working with a group of people from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) on an open-source project dubbed "Solid".
He described Solid as a way of restoring power into the hands of general users, saying that:
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. 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 says that Solid is based on the current model of the web, but it allows users more control over their data, especially about where it's stored and who can access it. He also touted its commercial aspects, saying that it will allow individuals and companies to build innovative and mutually beneficial solutions and services.
Solid operates on the principle of "personal empowerment through data", by which users can select which apps and services can access their data in order to provide them a more personalized experience. The executive went on to say that:
Imagine if all your current apps talked to each other, collaborating and conceiving ways to enrich and streamline your personal life and business objectives? That’s the kind of innovation, intelligence and creativity Solid apps will generate.
With Solid, you will have far more personal agency over data — you decide which apps can access it.
Berners-Lee noted that even though the web hosts plenty of data, much of it is read-only and it does not allow users to interact with it. Solid changes this by converting it into a "read-write web where users can interact and innovate, collaborate and share", while ensuring that apps and other services don't misuse personal data.
To that end, Berners-Lee is reducing his duties at the W3C and taking a sabbatical from MIT to work at his newly-formed company "inrupt" (read their blog post here). Here, the executive will be involved with co-founder John Bruce in the development of Solid. Berners-Lee stated that:
(Inrupt's) mission is to provide commercial energy and an ecosystem to help protect the integrity and quality of the new web built on Solid. [...] Together, Solid and inrupt will provide new experiences benefitting every web user — and that are impossible on the web today. 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.
Inrupt's first priority will be the development of the Solid ecosystem and its infrastructure. However, it will also work to build web-based systems that are beneficial for everyone.