They say it is unwise to meet a hero. But when you get the chance to see Sir Tim Berners-Lee in real life, you would not pass that up, right? Thanks to him we are doing what we do, even though that wasn’t what he had imagined when he created the World Wide Web. He is looking for way back. And it sounds interesting.
I saw Sir Tim speak on the Juniper NXTWRK EMEA in London, where the theme was that we should simplify building the network. Sir Berners-Lee was one of the keynote speakers. But to be honest, the speech was not exactly what I had hoped it would be. The first part was quite vague. It looked like it was one of the first times he spoke before a crowd. Luckily he recovered after a few minutes and his message turned out to be very interesting indeed.
The message was about regaining control of your own data. He spoke a lot about a vault he had at home, where he keeps all his data, and that if he wanted to check it, he could do so without having to go to someone else to check it. That has always been his original idea behind the Internet: creating symmetry. Everybody would have a device that contained data, and that if someone wanted to access that data, they had to connect with your device directly. And not, as it is now, store all your data on servers you do not own or control.
He said that he is so ashamed of what Facebook has become – server islands that have your data and distort your views and mingle in the democratic process – that if he had known this, he would never have invented the Internet. Fortunately, Sir Tim is not a man of just complaining and reminiscing the old days; he is trying to go back to that and recreate an Internet in the way ‘it was supposed to be’. He started to work on a project called Solid at MIT. And he wants everybody to know about it.
I am not really sure how Sir Berners-Lee intends to replace the current Internet, but the thought of bringing back symmetry is very interesting. Because that is what it mostly is: you send your own data when someone else needs it and collect someone else’s data when you need it. Today, lots of entities are specialized in only sending or collecting data. Bringing back symmetry may even be helpful in creating true Net Neutrality.
Going back to old ways is not always the best way to go. But in this case, it is very interesting to think about it. Is it possible? I don’t know, but Sir Tim working on it, might give it a big boost. Let’s hope that when he can tell us more, he can do it in a better way than when I saw him.