Fixing the web: Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s new venture, inrupt

The ultimate pioneer, the inventor of the world wide web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee gave us the web thirty years ago- for free. But his original vision for the Web is now at risk. His new company, inrupt, intends to fix that. 

Sir Tim and his co-founder John Bruce, a fellow British engineer and serial entrepreneur, visited the Octopus offices and explained their simple intention: to restore control of data back to every web user and in the process, stimulate new kinds of beneficial innovation. We’ve invested in their company, inrupt, on the basis that this is not only achievable, but also a desirable future outcome.

Re-setting the balance

For some years, Sir Tim and his team at MIT has been developing a decentralised, open-source platform called Solid, which rethinks how web apps store and share personal data. The big idea is that instead of a company “owning” your data, you will retain control of your own data, keeping it on your “Pod,” your own personal data storage, hosted wherever you choose. Rather than Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn storing all your posts and personal information on their servers, your  data will be stored on your Pod. Using LinkedIn, for example, will look the same and feel the same, but if you want to leave, your Pod leaves with you. Inrupt’s mission is to help evolve the web in order to restore balance by “giving every one of us complete control over data, personal or not, in a revolutionary way.

Thirty years ago the Web gave users a revolutionary ability to share information, inrupt will do the same for Solid. The re-balanced web will see entirely new businesses and ecosystems emerge including hosting companies, application providers, enterprise consultants, designers and developers. It will help businesses and developers transform latent ideas into impactful, market-shaping new products, services and revenue-streams.

The open source architecture system, Solid, was developed by Sir Tim’s team in the CSAIL (Computer Sciences and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory) Lab at MIT. Now the resources of a startup are being applied to their open-source efforts to make the Solid movement a reality. Sir Tim has stepped back from most other engagements, including his day-to-day involvement with W3C (World Wide Web Consortium), to concentrate on Solid and inrupt. Enterprise B2B will be the first area for development, targeting big organisations, including those in healthcare and finance, which have huge data problems to solve and endless opportunities to innovate.

Pioneering the future

We at Octopus define pioneers as those who dare to reimagine the future. When dealing with a pioneer of Sir Tim’s stature – we still need to do our due diligence. The really big ideas often polarise opinion. Does the web need fixing? Is this the way to do it? Who will this benefit and how? The same questions that apply to any venture, regardless of ambition

The fact is, however, that this is the time to be reviewing the Web from the ground up. The issues of privacy, security and scandal are reaching levels of intensity that can’t be ignored. Legislation like GDPR is generally two years behind the curve and struggles to keep up. Another issue is cost: siloing all of this data is very, very expensive. The problem is getting worse as big companies swallow smaller ones, concentrating the silos even further. 

Spending time with Sir Tim and John has been a journey into the big questions of privacy, enterprise and what it means to challenge the status quo. For all pioneers across the world, where inrupt goes from here will be a story worth following – and it’s one we’re excited to be a part of. 

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