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“Game on for Facebook, Google, Amazon”: Father of World Wide Web launches platform to flip internet power dynamics from corporations to individuals

“The web is under threat.”

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, best known as the inventor of the World Wide Web, made this dramatic pronouncement earlier this year.

Given that he literally invented the web, and is the director of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), which oversees web standards and its continued development, his proclamation on this subject naturally carries a lot of weight.

Tim has been a vocal opponent of big tech companies abusing user data, calling for more regulation and saying he was “devastated” by the Cambridge Analytica scandal. “For people who want to make sure the Web serves humanity, we have to concern ourselves with what people are building on top of it,” he told Vanity Fair last month.

“The web that many connected to years ago is not what new users will find today,” Tim explained. “What was once a rich selection of blogs and websites has been compressed under the powerful weight of a few dominant platforms. This concentration of power creates a new set of gatekeepers, allowing a handful of platforms to control which ideas and opinions are seen and shared.”

What was once a rich selection of blogs and websites has been compressed under the powerful weight of a few dominant platforms.

“Let’s assemble the brightest minds from business, technology, government, civil society, the arts and academia to tackle the threats to the web’s future,” he urged then.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee

Within months of issuing the clarion call, Tim Berners-Lee has launched his vision for the “next era of the web,” a new, fairer internet.

In a recent post, he revealed that he has, 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, and touched on why it’s necessary at this moment in time.

“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,” he explains. “Today, I believe we’ve reached a critical tipping point, and that powerful change for the better is possible — and necessary.”

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,” Tim elaborates. “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.”

The Solid website

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.”

“Solid is the technology that underpins a movement,” it says on the Solid website.  “To understand the ‘why’ of Solid, it’s important to understand the evolution of the web and how it’s diverged from Sir Tim’s original and inspiring vision.

The first web browser was also an editor. The idea being that not only could everyone read content on the web, but they could also help create it. It was to be a collaborative space for all mankind.

However, when the first browser that popularized the web came along, called Mosaic, it included multimedia and editing was taken out. It was considered too difficult a problem. This change was the first curtailing of the web’s promise and spawned an effort lead by Tim and others to get the write functionality back. It was dubbed the ‘read-write web’ and lead to Richard McManus’ seminal article published in 2003.

Solid has taken 15 years of development work to finally deliver this.”

To realize the web as originally envisioned and provide a platform for the next generation of truly empowering and innovative applications, Tim has taken a sabbatical from MIT, reduced his day-to-day involvement with the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and founded a company called Inrupt where he will be guiding the next stage of the web in a very direct way. 

“Backed by Glasswing Ventures, its mission is to turbocharge a broader movement afoot, among developers around the world, to decentralize the web and take back power from the forces that have profited from centralizing it,” writes journalist Katrina Brooker in her exclusive coverage in Fast Company.

In other words, it’s game on for Facebook, Google, Amazon.

“If all goes as planned, Inrupt will be to Solid what Netscape once was for many first-time users of the web: an easy way in. And like with Netscape, Berners-Lee hopes Inrupt will be just the first of many companies to emerge from Solid.”

“Inrupt will be the infrastructure allowing Solid to flourish,” Tim explains. “Its mission is to provide commercial energy and an ecosystem to help protect the integrity and quality of the new web built on Solid.”

Solid is the technically potent open-source platform built to decentralize the web. Inrupt is the company that’s helping to fuel Solid’s success.

Inrupt’s CEO and Tim’s partner is John Bruce, an experienced business leader and former CEO of the cybersecurity company Resilient, later acquired by IBM.

Inrupt’s mission is to ensure that Solid becomes widely adopted by developers, businesses, and eventually… everyone; that it becomes part of the fabric of the web,” Bruce wrote in a blog post on Inrupt’s site.

Of course, Tim is aware that the big powers of the web—billion-dollar business models that profit off of control over data—will not give up control without a fight, and he plans on powering through anyway.

“We are not talking to Facebook and Google about whether or not to introduce a complete change where all their business models are completely upended overnight,” he declares.

We are not asking their permission.

“I’m incredibly optimistic for this next era of the web,” Tim concludes. “The future is still so much bigger than the past.”

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