One Small Step for the Web…
I’ve always believed the web is for everyone. That's why I and others fight fiercely to protect it. The changes we’ve managed to bring have created a better and more connected world. But for all the good we’ve achieved, the web has evolved into an engine of inequity and division; swayed by powerful forces who use it for their own agendas.
Today, I believe we’ve reached a critical tipping point, and that powerful change for the better is possible - and necessary.
This is why I have, over recent years, been working with a few people at MIT and elsewhere to develop Solid, an open-source project to restore the power and agency of individuals on the web.
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.
Solid is a platform, built using the existing web. It gives every user a choice about where data is stored, which specific people and groups can access select elements, and which apps you use. It allows you, your family and colleagues, to link and share data with anyone. It allows people to look at the same data with different apps at the same time.
Solid unleashes incredible opportunities for creativity, problem-solving and commerce. It will empower individuals, developers and businesses with entirely new ways to conceive, build and find innovative, trusted and beneficial applications and services. I see multiple market possibilities, including Solid apps and Solid data storage.
Data should empower you
Solid is guided by the principle of “personal empowerment through data” which we believe is fundamental to the success of the next era of the web. We believe data should empower each of us.
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.
In 2009, I said, “The web as I envisaged it we have not seen yet.” That was because people were using the web just for documents, not for the data of a big web-wide computer. Since then, we have seen a wave of open data, but not of read-write data. For example, much open government data is produced through a one-way pipeline, so we can only view it. With Solid, it becomes a read-write web where users can interact and innovate, collaborate and share.
Meanwhile though, there is a wave of concern, and related energy, desperate for change. People want to have a web they can trust. People want apps that help them do what they want and need to do - without spying on them. Apps that don’t have an ulterior motive of distracting them with propositions to buy this or that. People will pay for this kind of quality and assurance. For example, today people pay for storage in places like Dropbox. There is a need for Solid, and the different, beneficial approach it will provide.
It is going to take a lot of effort to build the new Solid platform and drive broad adoption but I think we have enough energy to take the world to a new tipping point.
So I have taken a sabbatical from MIT, reduced my day-to-day involvement with the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and founded a company called Inrupt where I will be guiding the next stage of the web in a very direct way. Inrupt will be the infrastructure allowing Solid to flourish. Its mission is to provide commercial energy and an ecosystem to help protect the integrity and quality of the new web built on Solid.
There are many examples of open-source efforts that have benefited hugely from the contribution of a well-resourced company. While the open-source community provides initiative and a deep source of innovation, everyday web users as well as businesses often look for applications and services from a commercial entity that also provides technical support and vital, ancillary business services.
I believe this same model will be critical to the success of Solid. Inrupt’s success is totally aligned to Solid’s success. My partner and Inrupt co-founder is John Bruce, an experienced business leader with the skills to execute on my vision for Solid. We share the same passion for creating a better and more balanced web.
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.
I’m incredibly optimistic for this next era of the web.
I’ll still be acting as Founder and Director of W3C, the Web Foundation and the Open Data Institute as these are vital components for protecting what has been - and what will come. Inrupt, a W3C member, uses many existing standards and is part of the standards-building community. The Web Foundation advocates for data rights as part of its mission to advance a free and open web that benefits humanity. And the Open Data Institute's drive to make data as open as possible while respecting privacy is very relevant. I wear many hats and when I’m working in each capacity, I’ll always try to act according to the interests of that organization.
These are very exciting times. I will be committed to steering the direction of Solid, and developing its future governance. Inrupt will do many things: its first priority will be the Solid ecosystem. With the right values and a foundational corporate infrastructure, we will build beneficial systems that work for everyone.
The future is still so much bigger than the past.