Solid: Personal Data Management Through Linked Data

Solid logo

The premise behind Solid is a simple one: for every single piece of data you create online, you can choose where you store it. This choice does not affect what applications you can view this data with. Instead of letting apps prey on your data, you decide which parts of your personal data pod can be seen by what apps and what people. Since all apps find their data in the same place—your place—there is no need to synchronize: every app always shows you your latest data.

When we say Solid is “decentralized”, we mean that there is no central company or organization that has the power to influence your decision on where you store your data or what apps you use to access that data. Your data is not (necessarily) replicated, as would be the case with blockchain-based solutions.

Solid leverages existing Web standards, such as HTTP(S), URL, and RDF, to provide people with their personal space, called a “data pod”. Think of this data pod as your own personal website, hosted with a provider of your choice. It contains your data behind a login screen, and is accessible through any Web browser. Yet Solid data can be combined much more flexibly: instead of viewing your photos as a Web page, they can be displayed and edited in any app that you have given permission. If you give your friends access, they can display your photos together with theirs in a social feed—while everyone’s data remains stored in their own data pods.

Your data, your choice

Solid is a solution for personal data management, and an alternative to the “walled gardens” of today’s online networks. If you want to exchange things between people in different networks, you have to move either the people or data. For example, sharing a photo from my Facebook account with my colleagues on LinkedIn is not straightforward without making a copy.

Solid solves this by letting you choose where you store your data. Every little piece of data, as small as a “like” on someone’s post, is stored in your own data pod. When someone posts an opinion, someone else comments on it, and I like this last person’s comment, then those three pieces of data can each be stored somewhere else:

Figure: Decentralized social media post © Ruben Verborgh, CC-by-4.0

Thanks to the power of Linked Data, all these individual pieces of data can still be connected. By assigning a URL to everything, we can link from one thing to another—just like on the regular Web. Such a link could for example look like this:

<https://mypod.solid/comments/36756>
    <http://www.w3.org/ns/oa#hasTarget>
        <https://yourpod.solid/photos/beach>.

In the above, I’m connecting a comment on my data pod to a photo on your data pod. These links also have a type: I’m indicating here that the target of my comment is that specific picture (as opposed to, for instance, using a picture as an attachment to my comment).

Apps share access to data

As a data owner, you have full control over all of this data. You can decide for every piece of data who can see it. You can give apps permission to read or write to specific parts of your pod.

Apps do not store your data, but they all share access to your pod. This makes it easy to seamlessly move between apps, as they all use the same data—your data. So no more keeping your data updated and synchronized across all of your apps. Also no more signing up and sharing your details over and over again: your pod is the single point of secure access to your digital life.

This frees us from the walled gardens of social media, where every silo keeps its own data, and brings us to the Solid ecosystem of personal data pods:

Figure: App as a view © Ruben Verborgh, CC-by-4.0

A healthy competition between apps and data providers

Too many current Web platforms follow a “winner takes all” strategy, where they try to own as much of our data as possible in order to tie us to their services. With such a model, only the largest player really wins; the competition looses, and so do all people that had to give up their data.

By separating data from applications, we ensure a much healthier competition that is based on quality rather than data ownership. Applications focus on providing a better experience for their users. If no existing application covers your needs, anyone can build a new one because they don’t need to own any data to get started (or ever, for that matter).

A similar competition will happen on the data provider side. While some providers might store your data without charging money, you might prefer another provider with stronger bandwidth or backup guarantees. The important thing is that the choice is yours, and you can move your data at any moment while continuing to use the apps you prefer.

This principle of shared data and app markets accelerates the level of innovation on both levels:

Figure: Data and app markets © Ruben Verborgh, CC-by-4.0

Solid decentralizes to create choice

The current practice of coupling data storage with apps leads to a small number of centralized applications that violate our privacy. In such a small world, the lack of competition stifles innovation, since data ownership is the main measure of success.

Solid aims to break that status quo by giving us back control over our data. Taking ownership of our digital selves is the key to more privacy and a better online experience.

Come join us at solid.inrupt.com and get started with your very own data pod!

SOLID: GETTING STARTED

https://solid.inrupt.com/docs

See SOLID’s documentation area where you can explore how to use the technology. This is a development area and enables you to create a POD and follow guides, like Make a SOLID app in your lunch break

References

‘Linked Data – Design Issues’. Accessed 4 October 2018. https://www.w3.org/DesignIssues/LinkedData.html.

‘Solid’. Accessed 9 July 2018. https://solid.mit.edu/.

‘Getting Started | Solid’. Accessed 4 October 2018. https://solid.inrupt.com/docs.


Disclosure

Ruben Verborgh is part of the SOLID project and technical advisor to Inrupt.  

DOI: 10.25815/50W4-HK79

Citation format: The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th Edition

Verborgh, Ruben. ‘Solid: Personal Data Management Through Linked Data’, 2018. https://doi.org/10.25815/50W4-HK79.

Ruben Verborgh

Posted by Ruben Verborgh

I’m a professor of Semantic Web technology at IDLab, a group of Ghent University/imec, and a research affiliate at the Decentralized Information Group of CSAIL at MIT

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *