Berners-Lee launches startup to commercialise his Solid decentralised web project

John Leonard
clock • 3 min read

New startup to drive adoption of decentralised web project aimed at passing control from tech giants to users

Sir Tim Berners-Lee has joined forces with serial entrepreneur John Bruce to create a company called Inrupt with the goal of kickstarting the adoption of the long-running Solid decentralised web project.

Solid builds on exisiting web protocols to allow users to keep their own data on the cloud service, server or other platform of their choice in personal online data stores or 'pods', rather than having it stored on centralised servers. This is a reversal of the current situation where applications such as Facebook effectively own users' data by locking it down in their own walled gardens and using it as they see fit.

In the Solid model, each user's data - including identity, posts, photos, likes, comments and the rest - resides in pods and it is up to the user whether and to what extent to grant access to it. So instead of a Facebook or a Twitter being able to centralise that data in their data centres and prevent competitors from using it, applications become alternative 'views' into the data, competing for users via the services they can offer. This means that personal data is instantly portable between similar applications, as well as the obvious benefits in terms of control and privacy.     

"The main enhancement is that the web becomes a collaborative read-write space, passing control from owners of a server, to the users of that system. The Solid specification provides this functionality," the Solid website says.

Berners-Lee, often called the Father of the Web, has long been a vocal critic of the way that technology giants and governments have used his invention to centralise data and consolidate power. 

"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," he writes in a blog post.

In order to launch Inrupt and promote Solid, which until now has been an open-source project centred on MIT's computer science labs, he has taken a sabbatical from that institute and also reduced involvement with the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) which he directs and helped to found.

Co-founder of Inrupt, John Bruce, has a history of setting up software companies, including Resilient, which he sold to IBM, and Quickcomm, which was aquired by Vodafone. In a blog post Bruce describes how he hopes his commercial expertise will help Solid gain recognition as a viable alternative architecture for building web-based applications.

"Solid as an open-source project had been facing the normal challenges: vying for attention and lacking the necessary resources to realise its true potential. The solution was to establish a company that could bring resources, process and appropriate skills to make the promise of Solid a reality."

Bruce also mentions having "an exceptional investor" as part of the team.


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