Knight Blog

The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Introducing CrossCloud: A project to get your data out of silos

June 25, 2013, 3:56 p.m., Posted by Chris Barr and Sandro Hawke

When Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web, he imagined it being a better way for people around the world to share knowledge and work together to solve humanity's greatest problems. It’s often everything he hoped for, he says, but it sometimes falls short when websites and applications lock away data. Too often, people are stuck using a site because that's where their data is or that's where their friends or co-workers are. Such restrictions stifle innovation and cut off support for a new generation of vital tools for knowledge sharing.

Today we are happy to announce a Prototype Fund grant to the Crosscloud Project, an experimental effort led by Tim Berners-Lee and Sandro Hawke at W3C/MIT. Crosscloud aims to give individuals control of their own data. It consists of a set of protocols and tools that allows providers to give individuals control of their data, choose who can access it and move it to other systems as needed. Building on standard Semantic Web and Linked Data Technologies, it allows people to communicate across boundaries. 

With Crosscloud, users will be able to:

  • move easily between competing applications, even run them at the same time using the same data;
  • move easily between platforms, working with the same information on their phones and laptops (while using different software from different vendors);
  • move easily between social network platforms, migrating both data and social connections; and
  • connect across social network boundaries: collaborate with people and groups even if they prefer to use different applications and different service providers.

The Crosscloud team is currently developing ways to expand the prototype and build out some applications using the platform. Some ideas they are exploring include applications that allow users to chart information about their health; share and comment on web information; share photos and videos; and have discussions with friends. In all cases, people can maintain their data and share it as they like, applying it in any software built with the Crosscloud open source toolkit.

Crosscloud medical device, for example, would be configured to write its data to the user's own Crosscloud space, where the data could be accessed by the people and applications the user has chosen.

Crosscloud also allows software creators to more easily build social software. Without Crosscloud, creators need to configure and program their own backend systems and build a critical mass of users.  With Crosscloud, the user picks their own backend and the users can be shared among all the applications in a particular space.

Crosscloud is one of seven prototypes announced at the MIT-Knight Civic Media Conference and one of 12 announced by Knight in the last week. With the Prototype Fund, Knight continues to set goals to speed up the pace of innovation. By encouraging early-stage experiments for teams building new projects, we can better serve the information needs of communities and test human-centered approaches.  Through prototyping teams are given the opportunity to refine and iterate their projects, test core assumptions and make important discoveries before attempting to scale. The strategy allows Knight to support more ideas, gain and share valuable knowledge and learn what works and what doesn’t. Ultimately, we are giving innovators a channel to act on their ideas and keep them coming.

For more information about the Prototype Fund or to submit an idea, visit prototypefund.org.

For more information and news, follow @crosscloudorg on Twitter.

By Chris Barr, media innovation associate at Knight Foundation, and Sandro Hawke, technical staff and research scientist at W3C/MIT.