The Web’s Creator Is Doing Us A Solid
Sir Timothy Berners-Lee created the World Wide Web and the Hyper-Text Markup Language (HTML) that underpins it in March, 1989. Today, the father of the web is “devastated” and “sickened” by what has been done with his brainchild. But he has a plan to change all that. Read on for the details…
A Brighter Future For the Web?
“I’ve always believed the web is for everyone,” Berners-Lee writes. “… 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.”
Those forces – corporations such as Facebook, Google, Twitter, and many more – have perverted the People’s web into “the current model where users have to hand over personal data to digital giants in exchange for perceived value.” We all know how that has turned out.
You are not a paying customer of these corporations so you are their product, a non-human commodity whose attributes, activities, attention, and appetites are to be cultivated like rice, harvested, sold to marketers and politicians, and carelessly kept on servers that are secure only against you, not hackers who would do you harm.
Berners-Lee, his business-savvy partner John Bruce, and thousands of collaborators worldwide have been quietly working for years on a way to wrest control of personal data from corporate giants and return the priceless power of privacy to the People. On October 1, they went public with their progress.
It’s a software platform called Solid. My headline can be interpreted as, “These guys are doing all of us a solid favor.” I don’t know if that’s what Berners-Lee, et. al., meant in choosing this name but it sure fits.
The company formed to provide resources to Solid is called Inrupt. Visit it. Bookmark it. Sign up for Solid’s email newsletter. Much, much is coming real soon. For now, let’s see how Solid will relieve the suffering of social media.
A Not-So-Imaginary Conversation
(Virtually Everyone I know): “I hate Facebook! Always spying on me, even when I am not logged in or on the site. Always shoving creepy ads at me about things I mentioned weeks ago. Banning me from posting for a week without even telling me why. And what’s with that darned Enter key?”
(Me): “Why don’t you just delete your Facebook account?”
(VEIK): “Because then I’d never see photos of my grandkids growing up. I’d lose a lot of connections to relatives, friends, and business partners. I’ve invested too much time and effort uploading photos, videos, comments, and more. And no one would remind me of Dad’s birthday!”
It’s the Network Effect in action The more connections you have on a network the greater its value to you, and the higher the cost of leaving that network. Facebook, and Google, and other giants have you firmly by your, uhh, connections.
But what if you could leave the network and take your connections with you? What if all your digital “stuff” could be packed up and brought with you, effortlessly? What if kicking Facebook out of your life and moving to another social network was as easy and painless as switching web browsers? That is what Solid promises to enable!
You Can Take it With You
Under the Solid paradigm, none of your connections and personal digital stuff ever leave your possession! Instead, it all goes into a file called a “POD” -- a Personal Online Data file -- that is stored wherever you decide to store it: on your local hard drive, on Google Drive, on DropBox, etc. In fact, your POD can exist and be continuously updated simultaneously in multiple places. Redundancy (a backup) provides security against disasters.
Your POD is protected against hackers and other unauthorized intruders by encryption so strong it would take the NSA 1,000 years to crack it. Only you have the key that unlocks your POD. So it does not matter if Google Drive or Dropbox is hacked; what can be stolen is indecipherable without your private key.
If you worry about losing the key, you can split it into two or more pieces and give a piece to each of several trusted parties for safekeeping. None of those parties can unlock your POD with one piece of the key. All of the pieces must be reassembled in order to recover a working key.
Those photos of your family are in your POD. Your relationship with John and how to initiate a chat with him are in your POD. Everything that Facebook and Google now stores about you (name, address, phone, work, school, contacts, calendar, photos, shoe size, and your favorite ice cream flavor) can instead be stored in your POD.
New Apps to Manage Your Data and Communicate
You control what is stored in your POD, who can access which things in your POD, and when such access ends. To help you manage your POD, open-source software is being developed.
Imagine an app called “FacePOD” that is a user interface instead of the walled garden that Facebook is. It could enable the same displays and actions that are possible on Facebook now, but you could modify things however you like. When you want to try another user interface to your POD – say, “TwitPOD” - it’s as easy as switching from Google Chrome to Firefox.
In this brave new world, you could be using FacePOD to communicate with John who is using TwitPOD, with the greatest of ease for both of you.
Sir Tim reminds us that "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." But that notion of a "read/write" Web was quickly lost. Solid aims to restore it.
Who Will Pay For This?
Google and Facebook have massive "server farms" with untold thousands of powerful processors working together to provide their services. How will Solid replicate that scale of computing power in a distributed Web?
The Solid software must run on hardware servers, with more hardware connecting them to the Internet. There are several Solid server farms operating now, including a group at Inrupt. At the moment, funding coming from the pockets of each server farmer. But multiple funding streams are obviously possible; most likely, each server operator will employ several funding mechanisms. Subscriptions can be sold to users, who become truly valued customers to whom the server operator is accountable.
You could run a Solid server on a spare PC in your bedroom, if you have the technical skills. I suspect that software will soon be available to enable Solid servers on ordinary home computers.
Advertisements may be allowed in limited quantities and only if the advertisers will be content with eyeballs, not the contents of the minds behind them or personal data that is none of their business.
Some people bemoan the fact that they receive nothing in return for all the personal data they provide to online companies. But under the Solid paradigm, you could sell to access to advertisers who are interested in limited portions of your POD! Users can also sell access to their own creations to other users, a’ la Patreon.
If you’re concerned about the destitute and untalented, start a Solid server just for them and fund it with donations, grants, bake sales, car washes, or whatever. Objections to subscriptions based on economic inequities are as bogus as saying we should not produce life-saving penicillin because some people are allergic to it. Come up with an alternative or shut up.
Get Started With Solid
As the second site warns, it’s all very messy, crude, and techy right now. But do not wait for Solid to become “ready for prime time” or it may never get there. By creating your Solid ID now, you help the project move closer to critical mass, hasten the end of corporate tyranny, and stop the abuse of your privacy and identity.
Am I too optimistic about the future? Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 18 Oct 2018
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Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved