Solid heralds the future of the World Wide Web: Social Linked Data. Solid enables a new, decentralized architecture that allows people to store their own personal data and give fine-grained access to public administrations, companies, and other users.
The Solid Symposium 2023, which was held in Nuremberg by Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg and the Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits IIS at the end of March, gave researchers, early adopters in companies and in administration and the web community an opportunity to exchange ideas for further developments.
“Solid is all about providing a secure infrastructure for data portability and data sovereignty, which the European Parliament has defined as important for Europe’s strategic autonomy in the digital sector,” says Prof. Andreas Harth, who was in charge of the symposium. Prof. Harth holds the Chair of Technical Information Systems at FAU and is head of the Data Spaces and IoT Solutions department at the Fraunhofer Center for Applied Research on Supply Chain Services at Fraunhofer IIS.
Decentralized storage secures data
Solid enables users to securely store their personal data in Pods (Personal Online Data Stores). Anyone can set up a Pod. A range of Pod implementations are available, and there are several providers who host Pods. Pod owners control access to their data via identities managed by different identity providers. Applications access and use the data stored in the Pods. That way, users can choose trusted providers and decide for themselves where they store their data and who can access their data.
“With Solid, users retain sovereignty over their data. They can decide for themselves where they want to store it. The data is stored only there and no longer on big servers abroad or by large companies with a business model of selling user data,” Harth explains.
This decentralized architecture allows organizations to manage data, identities and applications without the need for central components or platforms. Solid thus provides the infrastructure for the portability and sovereignty of personal data. Although at present Solid is intended for personal use, the specifications are of a rather general nature and can also be applied in a business environment.
The government of Flanders is already working with Solid
Companies worldwide are looking into standardization as well as products and business models
Michiel de Jong is someone who already has experience with Solid. He is the founder of Ponder Source. The Dutch software company develops open-source software related to Solid and other decentralized technologies. A real Solid enthusiast, de Jong is also a technical advisor for the Solid Netherlands community. “The Netherlands has always been very interested in technology, and that also applies to liberal technologies like Solid,” de Jong says. “There’s a lot of interest on many levels. Many organizations in a variety of sectors are thinking about how they can provide the best service to people without taking their data hostage, so to speak. That’s a popular question in our country, and there’s a lot of movement and growing momentum. And hopefully there will soon be government funding to build a foundation for Solid and Pods. In Flanders, that has already happened. Flanders is the first region to use Solid. There, the authorities have distributed Pods to citizens so they can keep their personal data with them and share it as needed.”
According to Timea Turdean, who works as a software engineer at Inrupt, “There’s a lot of innovation happening in the Solid community right now. For example, building a standards community is part of our work.” Inrupt Inc. was founded by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the Web, and John Bruce. The company works with governments and large companies to help them and their customers experience the value of Solid. “With Solid,” Turdean says, “we basically leverage and augment existing web standards, enabling access, control, credential management, and new data standards for interoperability. At the end of the day, Inrupt creates enterprise-ready products and services with Solid.”
Social linked data and the human factor
What de Jong and Turdean have in common beyond technology is their enthusiasm for the community. At the symposium, Michiel de Jong acknowledged, “It’s very nice to be at a symposium with all these people who are interested in Solid. There are really interesting discussions going on, and it’s nice to talk to people who know a lot of the details, too.” Timea Turdean summed it all up by saying, “I like to be where specifications are being drafted and innovations are being created. It’s like magic.”
Andreas Harth also emphasizes the social aspect of Solid, quoting Tim Berners-Lee: “Solid is not just a set of specifications – it’s a movement.”
Watch the film to get an impression of the symposium: Meet the Solid community!