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Can Project Liberty Decentralize the Web?

A billionaire wants to buy TikTok and host it on Polkadot

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Remember when the World Wide Web was decentralized? If you started using the Web some time in the last 15 years, you probably don't. I discuss the reasons why in two books I've written in the last two years.

In both books, I show how the Internet started as a decentralized Department of Defense asset and, with the introduction of the World Wide Web in 1990, morphed into a commercialized collage of walled gardens and Internet siloes. Beyond that, the audience for each book is different and the discussion on how to fix that is slightly different with emphasis on specific Web3 or crypto-based social media platforms that promise to make the Web decentralized again.

Now, the Web's chief architect, Sir Tim Berners-Lee is endorsing another solution.

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What Is Project Liberty?

Project Liberty, founded by billionaire Frank McCourt, is a grassroots organization intent on making the Web decentralized again. Chief among their aims is putting user data back into the hands of users again, and out of the grubby hands of app developers. One of the tools they plan to use to make that happen is called SOLID, developed by the aforementioned Berners-Lee.

If you've read my books, then you know I'm a huge advocate for (almost) anything that promises to take user data out of the hands of Big Tech and put it back into the hands of users. A lot of other people are on board with that idea, as well.

There are plenty of solutions to the problem. The European Union came up with a legislative solution that requires Big Tech companies to follow certain rules when handling user data. The problem with legislative solutions is that they require governments to enforce them and companies may decide to accept whatever penalties are assigned to them for non-compliance rather than follow the rules. Of course, big companies can often find loopholes in the laws and use technology and money to get around such laws.

What SOLID and Project Liberty hope to do is use technology to create a solution that doesn't require government oversight. Of course, I'm definitely on board with that.

One of the chief initiatives for Project Liberty is to purchase TikTok and use it as a prototype for McCourt's vision to protect children and usher in a new age of technological utopia. If they succeed, AllInCrypto says the platform could end up running on Polkadot.

It appears the plan for implementing Polkadot has to do with building a parachain for Project Liberty. The project will then tokenize its bandwidth resources for messaging and social media. That sounds like a pretty cool idea. But will it solve the problem?

Can Project Liberty Make the Web Great Again?

First, I like Polkadot. I also like that Project Liberty is considering the idea of tokenization for solving the data ownership and social media decentralization concept. It would be cool if TikTok did end up in the hands of people using these features to decentralize the platform and reward users with a token. However, I'm a bit skeptical.

I don't mean to be cynical, but when was the last time a billionaire had the interests of everyone in mind? Well, like Al Gore before him, this billionaire wrote a book. McCourt's book is titled Our Biggest Fight.

If we ignore the hyperbole, we can at least say that McCourt understands the issue simply by looking at 5 key insights from the book (parentheses include my editorial comments):

  1. The Internet is broken (and it wasn't done by some guy named Ralph)

  2. It doesn't have to be this way (that's not very insightful)

  3. Data is personal (it's also impersonally profitable)

  4. A decentralized Web is good for prosperity (whose prosperity are we talking about, exactly?)

  5. Time is of the essence (again, not very insightful; that's two out of five)

On the surface, this looks like a decent attempt to decentralize a single social media application that could benefit that application's users. However, I wonder how many current TikTok users would support it. Or, would current TikTok users make like former Twitter users and vacate the premises after being taken over by billionaire Elon Musk?

Can McCourt and his team convince the crypto skeptics to get on board with his plan despite having no interest in crypto to date? Will the millions of current TikTok users continue using TikTok if it migrates to a blockchain? Would TikTok have to start over in terms of building credibility among its target audience? Or, would the TikTok user base shift from its current demographic to another demographic?

As I said, I'm all for seeing user data owned and controlled by users rather than Big Tech and their fancy applications. However, until I know more about this particular initiative, and whether it will succeed, I'm withholding judgment as it could go nowhere.

The Solution to the Data Game Is Already Here

I think it's clear that there is a data problem coupled with a centralization issue on the modern Web. The Web's creator sees it. Others, including Twitter founder and former CEO Jack Dorsey, have commented on it. We know there is a problem. But no one agrees on how to fix it. Regardless, there is already a technology present that has fixed the issue if we can only get everyone to use it.

It's called blockchain technology.

To be more specific, I'm talking about a network of distributed computing systems that, collectively, secure the network and reward network contributors through a value system known as cryptocurrency. While many such networks claim to be decentralized, they are venture-capital-funded entities owned and controlled by individuals or corporations masquerading as decentralized networks. I hope Project Liberty (and TikTok) doesn't become another one of those.

Hive is the most decentralized social media platform I've seen to date. While it isn't perfectly decentralized, it is more so than any other Web3 social media platform I've encountered. Yet, most people trying to solve the centralization and data ownership problems in social media have either never heard of it or aren't willing to try it for themselves. I can't help but wonder why. Is Frank McCourt in one of those two buckets?

To be sure, decentralization is a difficult thing to behold. It's not easy to achieve. And if it is ever achieved, some inefficiencies come with decentralization that participants would have to live with. The experiment in American democracy has taught us that, at least. The question isn't whether decentralization is a good thing but whether there is a collective will to pursue it and the associated pros and cons.

Why do you think Hive, with its multiple frontends, a distributed network of witnesses, and its core rewards system hasn't gained more traction than it has? Is it because few people know about it, because they don't want it, or is there another reason? Comment below and let me know what you think.

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