Berners-Lee describes his vision for a joined-up metaverse – and it’s decentralised
Sir Tim Berners Lee kicked off the first day of Tech Show London at the Excel Centre on Wednesday with his vision for the future of the web – which he invented 30 years ago after becoming frustrated by the siloed information systems that existed on the original internet.
Given the hype that the Metaverse and Web3 are now wielding – with multiple different versions of virtual worlds being developed by everyone from social media and gaming giants to telcos and smaller developers – we asked Berners-Lee whether he thought there was scope for someone to link these worlds together, as the computer scientist did back in 1989 with his global information sharing initiative.
His answer – broadly – was yes they could – and his vision for joining these virtual worlds together is decentralised. Berners-Lee told TechInformed:
“If we do build 3D worlds let’s build them so that I can put a 3D world on my website and you can put one on your website and using VRML we can have a portal so that people can wander around my world and then go through on the open web to join these 3D worlds together without having to go through any one central place.”
This vision is very much in line with Berners-Lee’s current project Solid, which he’s been developing through his start up Inrupt together with computer and data scientists at MIT.
Berners-Lee’s vision for Solid is an open-source platform that aims to give people more of a say in how their data is used and to stop it ending up in “social media silos”.
Berner-Lee told Tech Show delegates during his keynote that the early spirit of innovation fostered by the web and ‘blogosphere’ has been lost to the big tech giants.
“The spirit early on was enabling people to innovate there were blogs, user generated content – people set up their own sites and lined to other people’s blogs -This fuelled enablement,” he said.
“But then we lost that to social networks and all the innovation started happening in the labs of bigger firms and that’s been hampering innovation [elsewhere].”
However, the key motivator for moving to new decentralised platforms such as Solid, appears to have been the mass data misuse highlighted in Cambridge Analytica scandal.
Solid, says Berners-Lee, gets back to the web initially envisioned. “Pods” are central to this idea, acting like a USB stick on the Web where users can save their friends, posts, likes, comments, photos and more.
On top of these pods sits a user’s own personal API, enabling external firms to build apps that can share access to people’s data – but on the owner’s own terms. These data stores are decentralised and spread out in secure places all over the Web.
The platform, like Berners-Lee’s original vision for the Web, also comes with a set of technology standards that developers can use to write programs and that entrepreneurs and companies can use to build businesses.
“I see multiple market possibilities, including Solid apps and Solid data storage,” he said.
One pioneering business use of Solid is happening with the NHS, which has been working with Inrupt on a pilot project for the care of dementia patients. An early goal is to give caregivers access to a broader view of patients’ health, needs and preferences.
There are some barriers to market – Solid is not an easy concept for less tech savvy users and enterprises to get their heads around: a challenge, Berners-Lee recalls, which he came up against when trying to explain the idea behind the World Wide Web.
“That was hard to explain to people. To get them to conceive of being able to click on things and it can take you through to any doc. They were so used to silos of information.
“I’d try to explain that it was like a CDROM in the sky that you could just click on to get there. But there were no CDROMs in the sky! Persuading people to do things a different way is really hard.”
But, he added, “Things can quickly change if the world thinks they need to”.
The computer scientist uses Netscape as a case in point: “They had complete control of the web at one point. Then consortium started to ensure web was open royalty free space. There were more browsers.”
He concluded: “When people start to move gently in the other direction it doesn’t matter how many people are using existing silos – it’s whether the people using the new systems are happy.”
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