Tim Berners-Lee is on a mission to decentralize the web

With support from VCs, the father of the World Wide Web wants to restore control over personal data

“I’ve always believed the web is for everyone,” wrote Tim Berners-Lee, the well-known (and knighted) creator of the World Wide Web.

“The web has evolved into an engine of inequity and division; swayed by powerful forces who use it for their own agendas,” he added. “Today, I believe we’ve reached a critical tipping point, and that powerful change for the better is possible — and necessary.”

Late last month, he published the above in a blog post announcing inrupt, a startup that would finally execute on his vision for the information superhighway he built nearly 30 years ago. Backed with an undisclosed amount of funding from Glasswing Ventures, the startup is emerging from stealth today with a plan to decentralize the web and restore power to the people rather than the companies that have exploited user trust for their own financial gains.

The timing couldn’t be better. The last year has been plagued with scandals, from Cambridge Analytica, a data analysis firm that used Facebook data to target voters for President Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, to most recently a data-exposing hack on Google+ that relinquished the private information of hundreds of thousands of unsuspecting users.

Internet privacy and security are hot-button issues, to say the least. Users are rapidly losing trust in the companies that became institutions in the digital age — and they’re demanding solutions.

The race to restore control of data and the web at large has begun; inrupt is looking to the finish line.

The father of the World Wide Web

Berners-Lee is a British engineer and professor of computer science who famously gave away the web, which allows anyone with a computer to access the internet, for free.

For the past few years, he’s been quietly working on a project called Solid with a small team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Solid is an open-source project built on the existing web meant to give people control over their own data. Using Solid, users can keep their data wherever they choose, rather than being forced to store it on centralized servers.

The world we’ve created on the web [is] not the right one. — John Bruce, co-founder of inrupt.

Despite its populist ambitions, Solid had failed to garner the momentum necessary to truly disrupt the web.

Berners-Lee realized Solid needed commercial backing, a real business behind it to earn the interests of open-source developers who have to build decentralized apps on the Solid platform for it to be useful.

Thus, inrupt was born. Berners-Lee tapped John Bruce, a fellow British engineer and serial entrepreneur, to lead the company as its chief executive officer. Most recently, Bruce co-founded Resilient, an incident response platform later acquired by IBM. Before that, he was the chairman and CEO of Quickcomm and the vice president of Symantec.

Bruce resigned from IBM in April to focus on inrupt full time.

“The world we’ve created on the web [is] not the right one,” Bruce told TechCrunch. “Maybe, just maybe, we can put it in the place it was originally intended to be.”

“Inrupt’s mission, at this point, is to bring resources, process and skills to galvanize the open-source effort that Tim was leading out of MIT to help [Solid] become, truly, a force to be reckoned with,” he added. “We are at the stage of the new web that Tim was at when he first started the World Wide Web.”

Bruce says that since Berners-Lee announced inrupt in late September, open-source developers have poured into the Solid platform in droves.

Now, the pair are gearing up to raise another round of funding, hire, expand the Solid platform and work on a digital assistant tool called Charlie, which the company describes as a “decentralized version of Alexa.”

For Berners-Lee, inrupt is Act II of a much larger story. For Bruce, it’s the opportunity to work with a legend.

“This is a man that understands the web truly better than anyone else on the planet,” Bruce said. “And the wheels of innovation have really just started to turn.”