The Gist

  • Web3? More like Solid. Solid offers its own solution to the online data privacy conundrum. Solid pods give users total control over their data.
  • Another Berners-Lee imagining. He created the world wide web, changing society as we know it. Will his new project gain the same notoriety?

The Solid project is a fascinating technology with the potential to transform the way we think about and interact with data. 

At its core, Solid is a new kind of technology that gives users more control over their personal data, enabling them to securely store and share it with others as they see fit. 

In this comprehensive guide, we'll explore what the Solid project is, the technology behind it and some of the key benefits it offers to both individuals and businesses.

What Is the Solid Project?

Solid is a project led by Sir Tim Berners-Lee (below), the inventor of the World Wide Web, that began in collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Initially released in 2016, it aims to achieve his original vision for the internet — a medium for the secure and decentralized exchange of data. 

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, creator of Solid.

When asked about online privacy, Berners-Lee told the BBC's Thomas Ling that it's not that companies have your data. It's how they use it.

"Using private information, they've built a profile of you and know exactly who you are," said Berners-Lee. "They know the lies they can spin you that could lead you up the garden path ... And here's the bigger picture: people could misuse data about you to trick other individuals into voting for people that they really shouldn't — people that are not in their best interests."

With Solid, however, users can store their data in a "pod" — a secure, personal web server — and share it only with those they want, using Linked Data and open-source web technologies. Solid pods aim to give people true data ownership and help to create a more open, transparent and secure web.

Related Article: Growing Data Privacy Concerns in the Age of Digital Transformation

The Technology Behind Solid

Solid is built on a number of technologies, including Linked Data, the Resource Description Framework (RDF) and the Web Access Control (WAC) specification. 

The platform uses Linked Data, which allows different applications to work with the same data, aiding a decentralized internet. RDF and WAC standards, on the other hand, provide the underlying structure and security for the platform. 

Protocols like OpenID Connect authenticate users and offer an additional layer of security and functionality. When users log into their Solid pods using OpenID Connect, they can access and manage data through a series of secure, encrypted connections. 

Overall, Solid can securely store and share data in a way that is both transparent and accessible, making it a powerful tool for private use and the commercial ecosystem.

How Does Solid Work?

Berners-Lee said that "it's really hard to explain what a world with a decentralised system like Solid will look like." It's different from what we currently know. 

Solid works by giving users a personal pod, a secure place to store data, including personal information, contacts, photos, documents and more. 

People can share this stored data with others, be it individuals, organizations or platforms. "Solid will not only allow you to control who gets access to data, but you can also turn off that access with a switch," said Berners-Lee. 

Learning Opportunities

A key aspect of Solid is its ability to connect data from different sources and create a decentralized web. This is achieved through the use of Linked Data, which allows different pieces of information to be linked together and shared between different sources. The result is a more open and transparent web, where users have improved privacy and greater control over data.

At Solid World in December 2022, the organization's monthly conference, a research team from Oxford University shared two exciting applications for Solid. The first is a movie application with social sharing features (shown below). The other a calendar application to rival Google's app. 

Conference showing how web applications work today with Solid.

Related Article: Is Your Data Really Safe?

How to Use a Solid Pod

Solid pods are where you store and manage your data. There are two ways to go about setting up a Solid pod:

  1. Use a pod provider. Use a third-party service that is responsible for hosting data. A list of pod providers is available on the Solid project website, with options hosted in the US, UK and EU.
  2. Host your own pod. Self-host your own pod (i.e., run your own pod server). This option is more technically involved, but gives users true control over their data without the need to trust a third-party.

If you decide to use a pod provider, you can switch at any time. You have the ability to move your data elsewhere if you want, meaning you can change providers in the future or decide to host your own pod. 

Benefits of Solid

Solid sounds promising because of the benefits it offers. One of the biggest advantages is the increased control over personal data. With Solid, users are no longer at the mercy of online services that hold (and sell) their information. Instead, they can store and manage data in a secure and transparent way. 

And that control leads to increased privacy and security over existing standards. It would mean the ability to share information in a way that would still protect it and prevent others from misusing it (or at least make it more difficult). 

Solid has the potential to change the online experience as we know it. People could use the internet in a new way — one where they can connect with other individuals, organizations and companies without fear, anxiety or uncertainty. They could feel empowered because they have control over their own data. 

Will the Solid Project Become Mainstream? 

The Solid project, with the backing of Sir Tim Berners-Lee and a growing number of Solid community members, might radically change how we think about and interact with data online.

With its focus on giving users greater control over their personal data, increased privacy and security and the potential to improve the online experience, Solid is an exciting development worth keeping an eye on.