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    • My latest article from

      In the forward (1946) to a new print of Aldous Huxley’s 1931 opus A Brave New World, Aldous wrote. "Only a large scale popular movement toward decentralization and self-help can arrest the present tendency toward statism. At present, there is no sign that such a movement will take place".

      Whether it is believed we are headed to the dystopian future illustrated in A Brave New World or not, I believe it could be argued we are headed toward a form of statism over our experiences.  Statism as defined is “a political system in which the state has substantial centralized control over social and economic affairs”. Maybe political systems within democratic nations have remained relatively safe but it appears a system in which the web has substantial centralized control over social and economic affairs is seemingly creeping into reality.

      Imagine living in a world without technology and one day a switch was turned on for public and private entities to listen to what you say and hear, watch what you see and read, and monitor where you go.  Now imagine if the information collected was used to filter what you see and hear to influence the decisions you make and the actions you take? Would this be OK? I would imagine not but this is the web as we know it today. A reality introduced, not at the flip of a switch, but slowly over time luring users through the carrot of convenience over clarity of thought. A connection of experiences depositing primal needs, desires, and frustrations of users into a centralized repository optimized to the bottom line of the provider over the user.  At least this is what appears to be rising to the surface of a centralized web.

      What makes the web different from other information systems of the telephone, TV, or radio? On the web, we are increasingly connected to both each other and centralized providers like no other time in history exposing our collective intelligence to the threats of mass influence. Some may argue this could lead to oppression of our will but at the least I believe it is leading to a repression of our potential.

      When we engage with content on the web or through apps, we are providing data points representative of our lives lived to those not invited to the party. What if these data points were under the control of our own personal domain rather than the centralized authority of ISPs (AT&T, Comcast, Verizon), edge providers (Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon), advertising networks/servers (Doubleclick, OpenX), and browsers (Chrome, IE, Safari)? What if we were given the tools to render relevance and context on our own terms? To be more participant than a passenger in building better relationships with other users, products, services, and information?

      This is the plan from the founder of the World Wide Web, Tim Berners Lee and the team at the startup Inrupt to reimagine the web as a decentralized connection between users to build better bridges between personal domains. Personal domains controlled through Personal Online Data Stores (PODS) evolving from Mr. Berners Lee’s work on the Solid framework at MIT. Why is this important? Because the web is becoming too powerful of a force in the human experience to be controlled by handfuls of ISP’s, edge providers, advertising networks, and browsers.

      If a few social networks were able to disrupt a presidential election what is down the road when our cars, refrigerators, eyeglasses, or even our thoughts are connected? Do we want a future powered by a centralized web feeding at the trough of big public data to influence consumer behavior? Or do we want a future powered by a decentralized web empowering consumer behavior through a private connection to take back the reins of our own experiences?

      Where do the opportunities lie in building off a decentralized, personalized, and private framework? Inrupt is looking to find out by inviting a community of developers and innovators to build applications to securely move personal data into and out of Solid PODS to help provide agency over user experiences. Isn't it time we had the toolset to gain control over our interactions with media companies, organizations, or even our government?

      We now have the opportunity to move the user to the front seat of the exchange through a decentralized connection. A new reality important not only for the user but the communities they engage with. History has much to tell about extremes rendered through communities under centralized control. Now is the time to rethink the web of the future so we don’t repeat the mistakes of our past.

      I write on the intersection of technology and human interests and do not have an affiliation with Inrupt.

      Learn more about Inrupt and the Solid Framework

    • First off, thank you for your article. I truly like the idea and concept generally speaking. The name(s) behind this endeavor also resonate world wide (no pun intended). But as we all know the Devil is in the details. There isn't (to my mind) anything that aims to change in truly revolutionary ways these days the way we interact over our cable modems or mobile phones. I love that everyone calls it technology and maybe I am too old school in that regard, but to me technology does not primarily focus on software, rather on more physical aspects of life. And to know what I mean, just look where IP V6 is today.. not there yet. That said, there is already Mastodon which I plan to test and assess for my uses, and what Solid seems to be doing is storing user's data on their platform. And am not sure how that's any different from what others do today.

    • Centralization and decentralization appear to be a human phenomenon as are the relational and hierarchical structures between individuals, families and larger organizations be they local or larger governments or small or large businesses.

      I would not be surprised to see nations segregate their internets in order to protect the political institutions and the cultures they have built. The worldwide web appears to have introduced enough anarchy and anonymity that we are now seeing governments react to and start taking control of what is going on online. Indeed the insiders already have the internet and the dark net and language and culture still divide some segments of all of this.

      It seems like it may be a good idea for more organized forms of hierarchies and culture to take back some of the freedom and independence and to push forward privacy rights of individuals over the individuals/corporations/governments that think the Big Data collection, use and abuse is a better idea. The Big Data collection idea is not a good idea. Unfortunately, the majority of the people in the world are not really aware of the extent to which this has been going on.

      If you wish to get a small glimpse into the thousands of data points corporations are sharing, try reading through your financial information collected and maintained by credit bureaus around the world and then try getting some of this information fixed when you discover errors.

      Another exercise you can go through is to apply for a new loan online or credit card and get to the point in the online application process where the AI software uses information about you to verify your identity. Some of the questions these company programs come up with are down right scary because they give you a glimpse about how many people, places and things you know over a long period of time and you know that not even people in your family or your best friends know these things.

      The best any of us can do is to try to protect our privacy as best we can and if we happen to live in a free country where we can vote is to try to elect local and national officials who can reign in some of the things going on. In the long run, whether the internet remains the world wide web or a series of layers kept separate and whether the Big Data collection and free selling of individuals private information without them knowing and without them sharing in the profits of this activity continues, the internet will continue to be like the real world, full of good and evil, full of laws and regulation and spies and hackers and criminals and anacharcy, chaos and culture and organization, just like the real world. A double edged sword gleaming bright and shiny with the best man has to offer on the one side and rusty and broken with the worst man has to offer on the other side.

      As for me with this and all technology, I am optimistic in the long run that freedom and independence, privacy and responsibility will prevail. I would rather be an optimist than a paranoid cynic.

    • As always, I appreciate your feedback. The difference with Solid is you are not storing your data on their platform directly. You are storing it with Solid Pod Providers which are separate from the apps using the data. Its as if Facebook didn't manage or store any personal data and they had to go to each user and ask permission to access each instance of their data. I don't think Inrupt even knows where this is going to go as the apps built to date are still pretty rough. I have been monitoring their github channel and they seem to still be working on some of the fundamentals. But think about the concept of when our refrigerators are connected to the web, wouldn't we want to start with the fact this data starts in our own vault and the only means for a third party to access it is with an explicit permission request? This notion of capturing and reselling our data through 40 page terms of agreement to build social connections to influence our interests is a model I believe is dangerous. I believe private connections with tools for users to build relevance with specific permission requests to grow the connection from the bottom up is a better model. That is just me though.

      But I got to tell you I believe I am in the minority. I get an overwhelming sense in all my interactions on these ideas that people believe it is too late and nothing will ever change. But I also believe people have never had the proper toolset to give themselves a shot. Decentralized technology might be that toolset. Who knows though.

    • This notion of capturing and reselling our data through 40 page terms of agreement to build social connections to influence our interests is a model I believe is dangerous. I believe private connections with tools for users to build relevance with specific permission requests to grow the connection from the bottom up is a better model.

      The storage model is indeed interesting, though must be also very challenging to design as standard, appealing to become adoptable on wide scale. The above paragraph certainly resonates with me.

      The way I see today capture of data, and general use of Internet as revenue source (but not only that), is akin to Archimedes hard to open house gate which had his visitors eventually ask him how such a scientist couldn't fix it so it worked easier. And they learned each time they entered or exited through the gate were pumping water in his attic water storage tank. Brilliant, and one step ahead!

      Perhaps the essential conundrum here is redefining the lines of where exactly "our" data starts and where it ends. For example, when pulling out of our home driveway and onto the public street, we are no longer private citizens per se, from the vehicular traffic point of view.

    • Well said Mark!!!! I am an optimist as well. When they look back in 500 years they will see our interactions with technology of the day as kids in a candy store. We built tech to capitalize on our primordial brains because this has been a working model since the beginning of time. But I get a sense we are starting to learn our lesson as new tech hits that will allow us to tap into hidden potential of the individual user. I personally believe there is much more money to be made with this model for both the providers and the users as blockchain and private networks begin to take shape. Yes there will be bad actors who take advantage of the user but they will at least have more of a fighting chance. Maybe as we become more aware we will begin to elect representatives to better serve these interests. Certainly not going to happen overnight but I believe it is in the spectrum of possibilities.

    • What a fantastic analogy of Archimedes door. Really like this. And your point of clarifying ownership of data is spot on. I really do believe we need to craft a new Telecommunications Act as opposed to continually modifying the 1934 and 1996 acts. We need a new set of rules built around mobile, blockchain, 5G, IoT, VR, AR, etc. We need to extend our rights beyond our physical footprint but our digital ones as well. I know it is easier to kick the can down the road like they are doing with Net Neutrality but we seriously need to define the connection legislatively from the vantage point of both the provider and the user to help Archimedes visitors pump the community well instead!