Frequently Asked Questions
A guide to the decentralized web.
The decentralized web sounds complicated but it doesn’t need to be. Here you’ll find everything you need to know about centralization, decentralization, personal online data stores (PODS), Solid, data sharing, data security and so much more.
Janeiro Digital's Chief Technology Officer Justin Bingham explains it all. If you have a question we haven’t answered, get in touch.
What is the centralized web and what is the problem with it?
The centralized web is what most people refer to as ‘the web’. At its inception, it was designed to be a place where information was spread out and shared. In the last 30 years, an entire economy has been built upon it. New websites, functionality, applications, services, social networks and media created large information silos, which are typically owned by private entities or corporations. With so much of our personal data and information now online, individuals’ data is now spread across infinite silos, which makes it harder to access or control. This limits how easily and effectively people are able to use their data, and we are often completely unaware of how our information is being used.
What is the decentralized web?
The decentralized web aims to solve the problems that we have today with the centralized or siloed web. Currently most of our data lives in silos owned by other entities, so it is hard for people to access and use their own information. The decentralized web removes information from those silos and gives ownership back to individuals. This means that they can make decisions about who has access to their data and how it is used. By having that control, if an application or service does not provide the desired value, each person has the choice to revoke access and transfer to an alternative service that does.
Put simply, the decentralized web decouples data from applications so that citizens can use it how and where they choose.
What are the problems with data sharing today?
Existing systems mean that people don't always understand what information they’re sharing or the consequences of sharing it. This is largely because there is currently very little choice; if access to data is not permitted, it restricts access to services. Once the access is given, the person is no longer in control of that information, and essentially gives ownership of it to the service they’re using. Therefore data, applications and service today are very tightly coupled. It also means that the data that is shared becomes outdated very quickly, and is inaccurate. Therefore information held by one service about a particular person, can vary significantly to information held by another service about the same person.
Data sharing must become more intuitive and informed consent is a critical factor to achieving that. This would require applications or services to be completely open and transparent about the information required of someone, so that every person can make an informed choice about whether to share their data.
Does the decentralized web require a radical overhaul or replacement of existing systems?
Decentralized web does not require the existing web to be torn down or replaced with something totally different. Instead, the decentralized web can coexist and interface with the current centralized framework, whilst enabling individuals to own and control their data. Using XFORM, we can create pathways to connect these centralized and decentralized worlds, allowing easy exchange of information, which is already happening successfully today across industries and organizations like the UK’s National Health Service (NHS).
Is blockchain part of the decentralized web?
Blockchain is often confused with the decentralized web and frequently considered synonymous. Whilst blockchain is an important part of the decentralization story and is a technology and protocol, like Solid, that makes up part of the decentralized ecosystem, it is not exclusively the decentralized web on it’s own. Both move away from reliance on having siloed data consolidated in big databases controlled by one or a few entities, however there is no single protocol that could claim completely to be the decentralized web. Instead, the decentralized web is a collection of technologies, protocols, standards and specifications that create an ecosystem, all playing a part in moving information out of singular centralized systems into distributed systems across the web and the control of citizens.
What is Solid and what are Pods?
Solid is a collection of open standards that have been brought together into an open protocol to decentralize data on the web. Pods are Personal Online Data Stores, which is where data exists in the decentralized web. Pods act like personal servers, owned by individuals to store their own information and make informed decisions about where and with whom they share it. Pods store data in a safe, standardized, open and interoperable format which means that the information can be easily read by any application that is given access. Solid is the protocol that enables the data sharing to take place. It provides a layer of security to ensure that data is only shared with the services and applications that have been given explicit permission.
What is the interoperability standard?
The core protocol for the current or centralized web is HTTP. Similarly, the interoperability standard for Solid provides the fundamental layer needed to facilitate data sharing on the decentralized web. This is important because it provides the patterns that allow applications to easily read, validate and write to and from Pods safely, without breaking or corrupting it.
What is XFORM?
To make the decentralized and the centralized worlds coexist and work together, a translation function or bridge is required to connect existing applications, services and systems with decentralized data stores like Pods.
XFORM (‘transform’) is a software platform created by Janeiro Digital, that provides this capability by joining up with enterprise infrastructure as a point of interconnectivity between the traditional centralized systems and new decentralized data sources such as Solid Pods.
XFORM allows data to flow both ways without the need for existing systems to make significant changes. It does this in a secure, scalable way, bridging the divide between the centralized world and the decentralized worlds. XFORM already is powering decentralization in action today, and is the driving force behind the world’s first commercial use case of the decentralized web, which has been launched in collaboration with the UK’s NHS.
What other decentralized protocols exist in addition to Solid?
There are a lot of decentralized standards, protocols, and communities in existence. One of the most well known decentralized protocols is Bitcoin, which is used in finance, but there are also many more. The continued evolution, variety and interplay between different decentralized protocols and standards helps to create a very rich, diverse ecosystem that is increasingly gaining traction across the entire spectrum and helps to strengthen the decentralized web.
What is the Community Server?
The Solid protocol is an open specification, which means that any organization can implement the decentralized Solid servers. Solid servers is where most Pods exist - sending or receiving data from a Pods requires interface with a Solid server.
The Community Server is an open source collaboration led by a group of volunteers and supported by different private companies and academic institutions. It has been built and rigorously tested by global experts, and still continues to be developed by the growing group.
The Community Server provides a space to test out the Solid protocol and develop new applications. It is increasingly becoming a place where people who work on decentralized specifications can receive feedback on new implementations like data validation. As a result it has also become instrumental in advancing decentralized protocols and standards.