When Sir Tim Berners-Lee created the world wide web, he had a dream; he wanted to create a network where information could be shared free, globally and available for all. We might feel like this exists today, but Tim Berners-Lee’s dream have not yet fully ben realized: The Web as I envisioned it, we have not seen it yet. The future is still so much bigger than the past – Tim Berners-Lee
Most of us feel that the internet already allows us to share our personal information freely and to be connect globally. But looking closer, one realises that platform silos are creating inequality and dividing us from each other. We see this when social platforms do not let us share our personal data, like a holiday picture, easily on multiple platforms. Instead, we have to create a profile for every platform we interact with and we accept their terms, which often means surrendering our data to yet another company.
Most of us are left with no choice but to manage multiple profiles, passwords and personal information stored on many sites. Some platforms have grown so big, that we feel like we might miss out on social life if we do not participate. As users, we are only left with two choices: opt in, and thereby surrender our data, or opt out, and be excluded from the social interactions happening in that forum.
What if a solution was created that allowed us to stay in control of our data and at the same time interact with many different platforms? A solution that could easily show us all our data and let us manage it? All over the world, start-ups are building new services to let users be in control of their own data. One such is polypoly, which we decribed before. Another is Solid, which Tim Berners-Lee is heading.
”Solid is a technology for organizing data, applications, and identities on the web. Solid enables richer choices for people, organizations and app developers by building on existing web standards” Solid
It is based on an idea of extending the internet as we know it to a “Semantic Web”, which will allow people to share data in the rawest form and link it to other relevant data. It is an addition to the world wide web and users of the Semantic Web could be able to discover relations and correlations, not previously noticed.
“The Semantic Web isn’t just about putting data on the Web. It is about making links, so that a person or machine can explore the Web of Data. With Linked Data, when you have some of it, you can find other, related, data.” Tim Berners-Lee
When creating decentralized social applications based on linked data principles, the data ownership will stay with the users. Combining the Semantic Web and Solid, has the potential not only to improve data autonomy and privacy for users, but also to support science and art through linked data.
But for the internet to evolve into the semantic web, users will need to learn how to link data and take responsibility for their own data. This requires new habits when using the internet and new ways of understanding data. Users will also need a pod on a Solid server or to set one up themselves, to get a Solid profile – or use another similar service.
As other online solutions, this idea require people and communities to be useful. If only a handful of people supports linked data and Solid profiles, they will be isolated and not benefit from the full potential of these ideas. We have to ask ourselves whether we want convenience and surrender our data? Or if we want a free internet with our data autonomy? It is up to us, the users, to choose the future of the internet.
During 2021 we intend to describe more of the many new services giving users self-sovereinity over data.
Signe Agerskov is a member of the European Group on Blockchain Ethics (EGBE) and is researching blockchain ethics at the European Blockchain Center