From WWW To Pods

Tim Berners-Lee, the founder of the World Wide Web(WWW), created it after he found it difficult to share information between computers when he was a Software Engineer at CERN.

Tim Berners-Lee, at home in Oxfordshire, England: NY Times

As the web began to grow, Tim realised that its true potential would only be unleashed if anyone, anywhere could use it without paying a fee or having to ask for permission.

He explains“Had the technology been proprietary, and in my total control, it would probably not have taken off. You can’t propose that something be a universal space and at the same time keep control of it.”

At the root the web included 3 technologies. It was a global repository of: –

  • Webpages encoded in Hypertext Markup Language(HTML),
  • Each with a Uniform Resource Locator(URL) address,
  • With Hypertext Transfer Protocol(HTTP), which allowed for the retrieval of linked resources from across the WEB.

All he wanted to do was to enable people to share resources freely and make their lives easier. Little did he know that same tool would be used by big companies to pry into the digital lives of people, and harvest their data for their self gains.
He says “too much personal data reside with the ‘silos'(tech giants). Fueled by vast troves of data, they have become surveillance platforms and gatekeepers of innovation“, according to New York Times.

But he has a solution in his mind!


He proposes the answer to be Pods – Personal Online Data Stores, the idea being people could control their personal data — websites visited, credit card purchases, workout routines, music streamed — in an individual data safe, typically a sliver of server space. Companies could gain access to a person’s data, with permission, through a secure link for a specific task like processing a loan application or delivering a personalized ad. They could link to and use personal information selectively, but not store it.

In a way this is like WWW revamped  — a set of technology standards that developers can use to write programs and that entrepreneurs and companies can use to build businesses. He began an open-source software project, Solid, and later founded a company, Inrupt to bring his vision to life.

Inrupt’s initial business model is to charge licensing fees for its commercial software, which uses the Solid open-source technology but has enhanced security, management and developer tools. The Boston-based company has raised about $20 million in venture funding.

It has been working with the National Health Service on a pilot project for the care of dementia patients. The early goal is to give caregivers access to a broader view of patients’ health, needs and preferences. Each patient has a Solid pod with an “All About Me” form with information submitted by the patient or an authorized relative, supplementing the person’s electronic health record. The pod might list that the patient needs help for daily tasks like getting out of bed, tying shoelaces or going to the bathroom. It might also include what soothes the patient when agitated — perhaps country music or classic old movies. Later, activity data from an Apple Watch or Fitbit could be added.

 “A new deal on data will require entrepreneurs, engineers and investors to see opportunities for new products and services, just as they did with the web.”…
“The long view is a thriving decentralized marketplace, fueled by personal empowerment and collaboration, Mr. Berners-Lee said. “The end vision is very powerful,”

Tim Berners-Lee

This all seems to be very optimistic. But it has yet to prove its viability in this age where the Big Tech thrives on user data to improve their products. Will they give in to this idea? Only time will tell.

More here.

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Shreesha S
Shreesha writes about Business, Finance and Tech for The Snippets Journal. He is also the Founder and Head of Content Development.
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