by Suradha Iyer
The Turing Award winning computer scientist, Tim Berners-Lee has a legacy in creating the most disruptive technology the world has ever seen- the World Wide Web. He could sit back now and watch humanity come to terms with the full potential of his revolution in information management, a side project from his time at CERN in 1989, but he has taken upon himself to fix some problems of the internet.
For 30 years he’s tried to be a dragon-slayer to keep the Web open and democratic, with little else on his mind. He worked with governments, media houses, and founded the World Wide Web Foundation, Open Data Institute and the Alliance For Affordable Internet to ensure data privacy and increased access to the internet on a more democratic forum. He’s spoken out against the recent net neutrality rollbacks in the USA and commented that ‘to reach its full potential, the internet must remain a permissionless space for creativity, innovation and free expression.‘ He has publicly announced his shock in the role of the internet in the 2016 elections, the visible data breaches and unethical but legal steps by larger internet corporations. The news is problematic, but he had always known of the power of the Web and he’s set out to address the problems of data ownership and privacy on the internet.
Tim believes in the power of Linked Data
We cannot question the man’s commitment to the internet and user safety, but he’s also a fan of data sharing. He believes that the only way to create breakthroughs in the modern world is to index data with copious links to other raw data so it can form a vastly interconnected matrix with huge potential for humans- he calls it Linked Data.
With linked data, we now have the power to explore connections never before seen and it could change the face of internet, healthcare, and finance to say the very least. Berners-Lee believes it’s a necessity for the internet to connect data with links, and the data needs to be available from governments and private survey firms to be able to aggregate the matrix. Making raw data available to the public is useful to a number of actors- and World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), has built the Semantic Web to contain all the linked data and related technologies.
Berners-Lee is also behind the UK government project to open up most data acquired officially in the public domain. This is a change that isn’t happening quickly enough for linked data to have a significant impact today, more raw data need to become public domain for the tipping point that could be a Linked Data Revolution.
Combining both his passions, he’s been hard at work building another project to take control of the Web, called Solid (Social Linked Data) at MIT which will be a set of rules for social applications.These rules ensure that users can choose where to save data they create and share to various web applications, who can access it and also choose for it to be available to other developers to create more nuanced applications within Solid.
For the nerds, I’d suggest checking out the Solid MIT link, the solid.community page to register yourselves and learn how to contribute very technically to this David-esque movement to decentralize our internet from the Goliaths. For everyone that doesn’t speak code nor understand what a “Node.js based implementation of the Solid server specification” is, here’s what’s key. You can check out the Solid framework but it’s very nascent. Next month is a planned shift to a secure cloud based infrastructure. In a couple of months, they’re sending out App Developer Kits to interested web developers that know a bunch of web-dev languages. The early forms of the Solid data browser are likely far from aesthetic, too, but they are accessible to experience Linked Data in real time.
If you’re a web developer who feels grateful that their job exists, you can pay Solid back with help in testing, documentation, security or packaging. You can see to what extent you can contribute here.
Solid now seems like another nerdy corner of the internet nobody cares about, but they’re working on bettering their user experience and it’s your only chance in the near future to take back the power of your data. There will be host of new apps with a ton of glitches, and you’ll have to wait a little for a Solid framework developer to roll out something close to an Instagram with as much traction, but most likely you’re just going to have to wait for the Facebooks and Googles to reconcile themselves with what users value- in this case, privacy and democracy on the internet.
Suradha Iyer is a writing analyst at Qrius.