A New Business Model for the Web? $100 Million Creators’ Fund Seeks to Break Tech Giants’ Monopoly

September 16, 2019, 1:00 PM UTC

Tech entrepreneur Stefan Thomas wants to create a version of the Internet that frees creative types from relying on ad money from YouTube or Instagram to support themselves. Instead, creators would be paid directly by their fans.

To this end, Thomas’s blockchain company, Coil, along with the non-profit groups Mozilla and Creative Commons, will distribute $100 million in grants to creators and others who embrace ad-free business models. On Monday, the groups said the money would be awarded through a fund called Grant for the Web over the next five years.

“The internet has gone from a place rewarding creativity, invention and substance, to one dominated by a few advertising dependent platforms that promote and incentivize anything that grabs and holds the public’s attention,” the groups said in a statement, explaining the new fund will focus on funding creators in a way that doesn’t undermine privacy.

The fund is the brainchild of Thomas, who was the longtime chief technology officer at the cryptocurrency company Ripple, where he developed a technology called Interledger that makes it possible to combine different online payment systems. His new company, Coil, seeks to make it easy for web users to support creators by streaming payments—basically sending tiny amounts of money every second—through their browsers.

In an interview with Fortune, Thomas explained that streaming payment technology is viable, but that it needs a larger eco-system of users for it to catch on. Hence, the $100 million fund, which Thomas says will be available to everyone from app developers to podcasters to journalists. The fund will be managed by a consulting agency called Loup Design & Innovation, and at least 50% of the grants will be reserved for projects that use an open source licensing model.

Thomas also noted that Coil chose Mozilla and Creative Commons as its initial partners because of their experience promoting an open Internet, and exploring new licensing and monetization models.

“We’re very interested in identifying new ways of rewarding open creativity and enabling people to show their gratitude to creators who share their work openly with the world,” said Cable Green, interim CEO of Creative Commons in a statement.

It’s not immediately clear how these aspirations will turn into a force to challenge giants like Google and Facebook, or whether ordinary consumers are even interested in new payment models. Thomas, however, believes he can create flywheel effects, in part by persuading specific communities connected by geography or language to support alternate business models. He also suggested Grant for the Web could work with prominent YouTube stars to encourage their fans to try ad-free platforms.

As for the source of the $100 million that will fund the project, Thomas said it came via a grant to Coil from Ripple, and that in some cases, the project will use XRP—the cryptocurrency that is an integral part of Ripple’s operations—to settle financial transactions.

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