James Walker

James Walker

Web Developer

What the 'decentralised web' concept means for you

Published on Sunday April 16 2017 at 11:34 in News Editorials

Sir Tim Berners-Lee is working on a new version of the Internet that's meant to be a truly "decentralised" system. Reviving the concept of the decentralised web returns us to its early days of development, ensuring its open and free nature.

Berners-Lee, the creator of the Internet, originally intended the system to be completely "decentralised." This refers to how the web is available for anyone to use and contribute to. Because the Internet's data is spread across thousands of servers and any one can start another, there is no "centre" of the web.

This held true for many years. In the past fifteen years, the internet has become more centralised though, owing to the rise of increasingly massive companies. Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Amazon now control vast swathes of the web, encouraging companies to move their services into giant central server farms.

Solid, Berners-Lee's new project (detailed in a report from WIRED this month), advocates the network of small, individually isolated servers present during the Internet's early years. In some ways, it draws on the Linux principles of simple self-containment: services are exclusively responsible for themselves and interconnect with others as required.

In effect, this turns the web's centralisation inside out. The internet would transition towards a data-first model, rather than its current service-centric approach. Your data would become the most important element, a principle apps would be required to respect.

Amid the turbulence created by the FCC's repeal of its broadband privacy rules, a resurgence of interest in the protection of personal data has signalled a change in the public's attitude on the subject. Berners-Lee expects this trend to continue over the coming months, culminating when people realise they should own and control their digital data.

A full transition to a Solid-based system would take years and may not ever entirely replace the current web. Berners-Lee speculated a "tipping point" could be coming though, leading web users to demand control over their data. He likened the situation to the demise of the first proprietary online services, such as AOL. People ultimately want to be free of the closed walls, able to set their own standards for the use of their data.

Enjoyed this excerpt? Read my full report for Digital Journal to get all the details on the decentralised web.