Some Thoughts On Ghost By McAfee Or Why I'm Still A Believer
Monday, May 18, 2020
If there are two forces we can count on in the cryptosphere they are the whirlwinds of controversy and drama. The upcoming release of Ghost by McAfee, a privacy coin designed to obscure transactions made on the network, has excited many people in the industry but has now become mired in accusations of plagiarism by another project, PIVX. Investors, who had previously spiked the price of the associated Switch token (ESH), from which Ghost will be allocated based on holdings, have responded to the news with a wave of selling. If we believe there is a relationship between price and confidence, then we must also accept that some investors have lost confidence in the project as a result of these accusations.
This is unfortunate, because the vision for the project has not changed, and neither have the fundamentals. Switch has not proposed to dump yet another privacy blockchain on the market to be speculated upon. Rather, Ghost by Mcafee is a crucial component in an entire ecosystem designed for real world use. This larger vision is expounded upon in a series of blog posts written by Switch CEO Josh Case and published on Medium. Case has also used this forum to address the allegations made by the PIVX team.
At issue are the provenances of both the Ghost whitepaper and the codebase that will be used to design the final product. PIVX provided evidence to suggest that the Ghost whitepaper took portions of content from the PIVX whitepaper and presented it as original work. They also suggest that Ghost will be just a rebadged implementation of PIVX and that people should just use PIVX.
For a cryptocurrency project these are serious accusations, and many projects have been wiped out by these kinds of controversies. But I do not believe that is what will happen with Ghost. Nor do I believe it is what should happen. For while it certainly appears as if mistakes have been made, it would be a great shame for the larger vision to die because of some errors in human judgment. Especially when the outstanding balance doesn't really amount to much. The relevant question for me is: what happens now?
The first thing that happened is that [within 24 hours] Case accepted responsibility for the mistake and explained to the public why it happened. Rather than double down, nitpick the evidence, or enter a tit-for-tat, Case admitted that the developer(s) hired to work on Ghost did in fact draw heavily from the PIVX whitepaper. In his blog entry, Case complimented the PIVX project for the quality of their codebase, and explained the reasons why Ghost will use PIVX as a base to build off of. He acknowledges the incident as unfortunate, but stands behind the vision for Ghost as an innovative addition to the space. This is what it is, and while the adults among us can accept his explanation and move on, there will of course be the children among us for whom nothing would satisfy them but for Josh Case to self-immolate in repentance.
This would be unfortunate, for another thing this blog post also makes clear is Case's role as a Project Manager for Ghost, rather than as Lead Coder. There has also been a negative reaction to this revelation, which is not surprising given the culture in the cryptocurrency industry and the manner in which many projects are managed. For somehow, in their hubris, many people that write code have come to the most absurd conclusion that they are the best choice for Project Manager as well. Not to mention Chief Marketing Strategist, Community Engagement Director and Media Relations Director.
The paradigm of Lead Coder as "Benevolent Dictator" of a project is not unique to cryptocurrency. It was inherited from the worlds of Free Software and Open Source Software in which cryptocurrency has roots. In the beginning of a project, the Lead Coder is often the only person involved, and so by necessity is forced to assume these many roles. And having assumed these roles, many don't like to give them up. As such, the world has witnessed many projects that have superior technology but shitty everything else. They don't get used outside of a few enthusiasts and, in the case of cryptocurrency, speculators.
The fact that Case isn't a coder should not be controversial, any more so than the revelation that John McAfee is also not the one doing the coding. Is there anybody out there who believed, upon hearing the vision for Ghost by McAfee, that John McAfee was hard at work writing code, huddled over in his basement while pissing in jars? There may be, and their associates and loved ones have my sympathy. The more reasonable among us understood that, in reality, John McAfee's contributions would be more high level. Things like the vision for what the end product should look like. The reach and brand recognition to put that product in front of millions of ordinary people, and not just cryptocurrency enthusiasts so that it is actually used, and not just speculated upon. The kind of things that will make Ghost a success, rather than just another niche coin.
Personally, I am pleased to hear that Case will not be wasting his energy chasing down code bugs and implementing the different components of the larger vision. And hiring contract coders until a project is successful enough to fund in house developers is neither unethical or impractical. Let McAfee do what McAfee does best, and let Case do what Case does best. This is how you achieve a product that people actually use, rather than one that will impress a handful of nerds.
I also don't believe that all code needs to be written from scratch in order for a project to be good. Reinventing the wheel is the fastest road to introducing new bugs and insecurities, and is often unnecessary. This is why good coders rely heavily on libraries, so they're not reimplementing common techniques, and instead are using tested, production quality code. John McAfee's vision for Ghost includes selecting the best technologies already available in cryptocurrency and including them in Ghost. The best way to do this is to pick a solid base that already implements as many of these as possible. Then, you can add components from elsewhere by adapting them to this base codebase. You can also code new components to add functionality not yet available elsewhere.
On this score, the developers at PIVX have no legitimate complaint. They have made their code freely available under an MIT style license. To comply with this license, all one must do is include the copyright statement in the final product. There is no credible reason to believe Ghost will not do this, especially after all that has transpired. But no permission is required, and no acknowledgement beyond the inclusion of the copyright message. Legally and ethically, Ghost is on a straight path in this regard.
In the end, a lot falls on belief in the original vision. I'm excited about quite a few privacy oriented projects, and I remain excited about Ghost. I have long believed that too much emphasis has been placed on the tech in these projects and not enough emphasis has been placed on the "soft" aspects of a project's success. I don't need to prove this - the facts and results speak for themselves. And the reality is that the number one use of most privacy coins is market speculation. Full stop.
It is for THIS problem that I have hope and confidence Ghost will be a solution. The tech will be the tech, mostly stuff that I don't understand anyway. But convincing me that my transactions actually disappear and are untraceable is only half the battle. The easy half, frankly. The hard part is getting the damned thing in use by some critical mass of real people, so that I can actually use it for the advertised purpose. To do this you need reach, influence and an ecosystem. Ghost proposes to marry these ingredients for the first time. With John McAfee and the McAfee brand providing the anchor, I believe they have a fighting chance.