I interviewed a famous blockchain guy at a tech conference last week. Our conversation was part of an event called Unfinished which aimed to convene “leading voices in tech, media, art, policy, and the spaces-in-between for vibrant conversations about the decentralized future.” In practice, that meant hundreds of curious people from the media-tech-ethics milieu showing up in person in NYC (vaccines required) at the invitation of Frank McCourt, a wealthy real estate tycoon who once owned the Dodgers and now owns a French soccer club.
We were all wondering: Who is this McCourt guy? Why does he suddenly care about issues like digital privacy, which we’ve been working to fix for the last decade? I think the answer lies in the conclusion billionaires often arrive at when faced with an ailing public institution like a city (Bloomberg), legacy media company (Bezos), or, in this case, the internet: My money can fix this.
McCourt has decided that the only way to escape the exploitative, misinforming trollfest that currently exists online is to build a new web with something called Project Liberty. Here’s how critic and longtime internet activist Micah Sifry described the vision in his newsletter.
McCourt has staked $100 million towards this goal, $75 million for creating the McCourt Institute at Georgetown and Sciences Po in Paris, and $25 million for “gifting of a visionary open-source protocol called the Decentralized Social Networking Protocol” (DSNP) that his team at Unfinished Labs is developing for the public. I asked Evan Henshaw-Plath, a veteran developer who launched Planetary.social last year and who is deep into the decentralized web conversation, what he thought of Project Liberty’s white paper on DSNP. He said that while the effort was well-intentioned, it didn’t recognize the work that others had already done and it needlessly relied too much on the blockchain.
Maybe you also read about McCourt’s plans and rolled your eyes. Or hearing this now, you’re angry and think all that money would be better spent on…