My personal opinion about Solid

I was thinking hard about how to explain Solid best. I like explanation videos. And because I am not talented at creating them and because someone already did a great job, I simply share one I like.

What is Solid?

Why a new Web in the first place?

As the Web is today, there are a few problems. The ones that bother me the most are:

Openness and accessibility

I have a Facebook account. If I want to share a social media update with a friend who does not have Facebook, I need to make it public and thus available for everyone to see it. That is not open nor accessible! Who creates this rule? The service provider, Facebook. Facebook owns my social circle.

Censorship and privacy

The truth is, my data, in whatever service it is on, could be sold to companies I would not know about it maybe. Everyone knows by now ‘if the service is free you are paying with your data. The service I have my data on can chose to do whatever because they are the authority. They can decide tomorrow that all data that contains the word ‘poop’ is going to be censored and deleted. And if I want to continue using their service, if I am not already banned, I need to sign their new Terms & Conditions.

What do people say about Solid?

Looking online at the general concerns about Solid I try to give my personal 5 cents about them and thus complete the image of what Solid is and can become.

How are data-thirsty companies going to buy into Solid?

At first, they will not. Not as long as their business model is based on monetizing user’s data. However, if they are smart, they will have/already have solutions in place to keep their business successful without owning so much data.

Recently I looked into the Amazon business case. One can see that their business is shifting or at least they have a strategy in place to help them be resilient in the face of such a data privacy change. I think their strategy is to become the ultimate service/experience provider in retail. They will not care where the data will be stored since their competitive advantage will be to offer the best service. For example, Amazon can provide the ultimate shopping experience based on tech (see Amazon Go). Don’t get stuck on the Amazon Prime account – that could well be your WebID. And do not get stuck on payment. Your WebID could contain your preferred payment method which your bank trusts and ultimately allows the transaction. In the end, you could be using Amazon Go which just happens to be, in the future, the go-to system in all shops…

And why would Amazon Go be the best system in place? The concept itself is not based on data, on your data. It is based on shopper needs which right now seems to be about ‘time’: ‘no line, no checkout’. Yes the ML and AI are based on data but that data will continue to be available as research data or Amazon could buy it from you.

If you notice, Solid could shift the focus from a business model based on the heaps of data to a business model based on best service quality.

How are data-thirsty companies going to buy into Solid? Take Two.

Because of YOU!

If we start to have choices that are based on the best service provider, best safe Pod host, best UX and accessibility, best experience, the data collecting giants will be left behind. They will have no choice but to change strategy and get in line with what the little people want. We might be little but we are billions, we are the market.

What keeps companies from simply copying your data? And keeping it?

They can do that now. And they could maybe do that in the future too until I, the user, pull the plug and with that, they will get no more up-to-date data about me. Current business models driven by data mean that the data is up to date, near real-time. This is very important because if they have my data from last year it will be majorly outdated when it comes to saying: my book purchase preferences, or fashion or whatever! I argue that the value of data is in its freshness.

And also, I hope, there will be policies and laws in place that will not allow this. Because if the market asks for the best quality in a service provider and we hear about privacy concerns we will deregister, cut the data plug and move to the next most secure service provider.

How about security concerns of Pods being individually hacked?

This is a good valid point! The premise is that a hacker would target individual Pods. Hmm… might not pay off. Let’s say that a hacker can hack more Pods at the same time because of a loophole in the tech. Pretty much what is happening right now! So how is that a bigger concern than how it is now?

My final thoughts

I think Solid will co-exist in parallel with the Web we have today. Nothing will change drastically and fast! We will keep having Social Media accounts, Amazon accounts, Google accounts, and data all over the place. However, we will have a new choice more privacy-sensitive. Diversity and inclusion is all about giving people choice.

My first (official) month in the Solidverse

or how to start a new chapter of your life

In this post, I report on how it was to start a new chapter of my life, what I did and how it felt. For a technical take on the Solidverse, there will be a follow-up post.

First things first, why a new chapter?

Job hunting usually triggers a new chapter, doesn’t it? I started looking for a job in the domain of Semantic Web. I send in a CV at Inrupt even though there was no open positions. The whole process took about 3 months. This gave me enough time to consider if I should accept the position offered to me or not. The reason why it took so long is related to the hiring process and my struggle to come back after what felt like a startup failure (read about My year of entrepreneurship).

Why Solid?

I very much agree with what the Solid Project website says: “your data your choice”. It is my first job where we all work for a greater purpose bigger than just revenue. The point is: the future is still so much bigger when it comes to the world wide web. Sir Tim Berners-Lee and the Inrupt team are spearheading a new technology, Solid, which empowers individuals and opens new value creation opportunities. Instead of waiting for the future to happen, I decided I want to be part of shaping it. I got a position as a Software Engineer on the open-source SolidOS project guided by Sir Tim Berners-Lee.

Down the rabbit hole

Everything was new… and it felt like a tremendous change. Who is not scared, a bit, by change?

The start

Inrupt is a startup and one needs to get useful. In startups, getting told what to work on is not the norm. So I started with writing my job description. This was the first exercise where I needed to think about how to do my job and what I want to work towards. Being 10 years in the industry did help! Typically, for me, the plan goes as follows:

  • First month and a half: acquire knowledge about code, processes, and people.
  • Following months kick-off/embed yourself in a feature/sub-project where you think you can contribute. Then focus to deliver.

There were a lot of new things for me: new programming language, new development environment, new OS, new laptop, new working culture (all remote), different timezones, open-source, new ecosystem, new people, new chat applications, new processes, new autonomy in a company, new hair color 😏. The only thing that stayed the same was my desk at home, luckily 😅 (which changed already a month before). And the fact that I already know Semantic Web.

The first official week, I felt overwhelmed by the autonomy I have. This is not for everyone! I was a bit spinning I gotta admit, the first day before I anchored myself in my usual fallback solution: create a todo list 😎. Spinning for me means: fussing around being unfocused, not knowing what to do because either there are too many tasks or because one does not know how to start, on the what to focus. A todo list always helps me. What is your fallback solution?

The second week, I started to feel a burdening imposter syndrome. You know, the feeling which we all have when we are new to something. It is the feeling of being discovered as a no-good and fired on the spot 😱. I suppose it was all normal especially because my environment involves working with people with a lot of experience from high-profile companies. Or people with years of business and developer experience. And, well, there was the ‘creator of the web boss’ things which, I gotta admit, was intimidating at first. However, reality is nothing like that.

If you ever had impostor syndrome you know what I mean 🥺. I got over it because the people I work with are just amazing, supportive, and understanding. They told me about their impostor syndrome and I did not feel judged, for a second, for my experience, background, culture, gender, and so on. And that right there made all the difference!

The middle

Compared to my previous times of starting a new job, I did not focus only on reading and learning. Instead, I decided to bang my head by taking on a code feature and work it out. Bang my head means: write code before reading the entire documentation or knowing the entire code architecture or whatever.

My new approach was so much fun!!! It worked because:

  • My reading and learning focused on basics that helped me be productive – building code with node, javascript basics, npm packaging, visual studio code shortcuts.
  • I know how to ‘divide and conquer’ a task, split it into subtasks and achieve small goals.
  • I got great feedback on the way, through pull requests.
  • And most AWESOME: I got a buddy who introduced me to SolidOS code, to the communication, and to the people (thank you Sharon!).

And what do you know: I did my first Pull Requests on open source, I learned a ton about the code, and I found tasks where I can be useful moving forward.

Towards the end of the month, I felt more on top of the code stack and I could focus again on what I wanted/needed to do after the learning phase.

  • Slowly, I started to gather information about a new feature I want to kick off.
  • Talked to/found people who can help me implement it.
  • Exchanged some ideas and wrote up a bit of documentation.

The productive

What helped me go from getting started to be productive in a nutshell:

  • Have a buddy or ask for one.
  • Have a plan in place like 1.5 months learn then kick off smth.
  • Don’t get demoralized that one is not productive in the first month when only learning should be the goal – make a post-it if you forget “learning is the goal”.
  • Start learning about tech stack parts that make you productive – set up the environment, know how to build, use watch, and so on.
  • Lean on colleagues to help with overcoming impostor syndrome and not feeling like the new person – proactively plan coffee chats.
  • Divide and conquer every task – don’t get stuck in being overwhelmed by how big a task is and feel the ‘done’ effect when a small part has been achieved.
  • Talk to people and listen.

And most important:

  • Be kind to yourself in the process of change! Accept that you will have bad days and non productive days and days where not much will work. ‘Those too shall pass”.

The beautiful part about it was that even though I went in this endeavor with low energy, I did not get lost in stress but through kindness and patience, I was more productive than I thought I could be.

What’s next

Now I am off to my last MBA course (on leadership) so I can close that chapter of my life too. I am careful lately about my energy level and try to finish a project before starting new big ones. The startup year exhausted me there 😓.

Regarding Solid, oh!, I have so many cool things I want to do. The Solidverse captivated me completely! I felt welcomed and useful and valued. I am off to a great new chapter of my life, full of code and creativity, and collaborative work!