Sir Tim Berners-Lee Wants to Reinvent the Web

Sir Tim Berners-Lee at #WebWeWantFest by SouthBank Centre is licensed under (CC BY 2.0), CROPPED PHOTO

More than 30 years ago, Sir Tim Berners-Lee created the World Wide Web. It was an invention that literally changed the world, enabling computers to talk and share information that transformed the way we do business and connect with others. It sparked a global wave of creativity, collaboration and innovation that continues to this day.

But Berners-Lee is strongly opposed to the way information is harvested when people use the Web. He believes in the sovereignty of personal data and says the way data is currently collected is inefficient and incomplete. It’s also invasive and not helpful in offering insights into how to best assist customers and develop products and services that meet their needs.

Back to basics, restoring trust

To return to the original vision, Berners-Lee along with John Bruce, former CEO of the cyber security firm, Resilient, have cofounded Inrupt and built a product called Solid—a technology for organizing, data, applications and identities on the web.

“Some are calling it the web take three,” Berners-Lee says. “Web one seemed to be a good idea and web two has got lots of issues. If you think of the web trajectory, this is an important midcourse correction.”

It works by rearchitecting the way data is stored, shared and how projects on apps are developed. Through Solid, people can decide who has access to their data instead of it automatically being controlled by a company.

With Solid, a person’s data sits in a pod, and organizations need to ask for permission to use it. It restores trust in how data is used by companies and enables firms to innovate by connecting different pieces together through the extra information people are willing to provide. Berners-Lee thinks it will result in an explosion of new projects for businesses.

“The thing about Solid is that it is all linked data, and the data you pull from one for one part of your life and the data you pull from another part of your life all connects together,” Berners-Lee says.

“We might find people who store their healthcare data [in their pod]. Then people might think their fitness data from their Fitbit should connect to their health data. If they also have nutrition data about what they have been eating, their pod starts to become a really useful resource if they’re trying to run a marathon or manage their lifestyle.”

Collaborating to solve the world’s problems

Inrupt’s pilot partners include the UK National Health Service, BBC and the government of Flanders in Belgium.

The project with the Flanders government has seen a surge of new products being offered to the country’s citizens.

“The work that's most exciting about what's going on at Flanders is it's not just the government, it's companies coming together to say, how can we serve the citizens of Flanders in a way that has eluded us” Bruce said.

The Flanders government has built a service called “My Citizen Profile”—a Solid Pod that acts as a home for people’s personal data. Citizens can then use it to inform companies or the government about address changes; they can even share a diploma with potential employers or register a company.

Bruce thinks the most exciting thing of all is the apps we haven't seen yet. He expects the level of innovation will increase as developers gain access to higher levels of data and become more agile at working on them.

“The ultimate goal is the same as the Web from years ago. I'll be happy when I see Solid providing a platform that allows people to build apps, helps the process of science and helps the process for people collaborating internationally.

“We have massive decisions to make together, such as how to solve climate change. I suggest that we take a look back and say yes—part of the reason why we could actually get our act together and solve climate change problems and solve cancer was because the Solid platform was able to build these really cool, powerful collaborative apps. That's what I wanted to use the web for.”

Digital Exclusive article developed for Project Management Institute, Inc. by Joanne Frearson. Frearson is a U.K.-based business reporter.

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