The Bitcoin flash network could have a much faster use case than more scalable payments.
Last week, Joost Jager, developer of Lightning Labs revealed a new experimental proof of concept: Whatsat, a version of Lightning that can be used to send private messages.
Like Bitcoin, he resists censorship. However, unlike encrypted applications that turn messages into unreadable and inconsistent text to prevent messages from being of interest, there is no central entity to prevent users from using the network.
Jager told CoinDesk:
"Lightning is a peer to peer network where everyone can participate. No central body has the ultimate authority to decide which users are allowed to communicate. "
Private messaging is a hot topic in the digital age, as it is easy for bad actors to intercept messages that are not encrypted. Applications such as Signal and Wire offer more privacy to users, but private messaging is still far from being everywhere.
"I like to compare private messaging with the ability to talk to someone in private. We can do it without asking permission, "said Jager. "It's such a natural freedom that we barely realize how important it is. As we humans continue to digitize more every day, I think it makes sense to extend this freedom into the digital realm. "
Whatsat is an exciting project for Jager and is not a project he's working on for Lightning Labs. The application is at an early stage, it still does not have to be used with real bitcoins.
Accidental messaging system
Jager said that it was always possible to add additional data to the flash payments. However, a recent change in Lightning's specifications has standardized the operation of this integrated messaging system. Lightning network software therefore remains compatible.
Jager said other technologies could be used to decentralize messaging, but he added that lightning has some advantages that no other applications have.
"Lightning is not the only way to decentralize this, but it has the advantage of being a payment network as well," he said. "Running any type of centralized or decentralized service costs money and it's easy to pay for it, message by message."
It is difficult for discussion platforms and social networks to obtain "network effects" that are becoming more and more useful as more and more people are using them. But pairing payments and messaging could help.
"It's about knowing how many networks (of equals) you want to participate in. It simplifies things if you get the two main uses, payment and discussion, from one single network, "said Jager.
Sjors Provoost, a contributor to Bitcoin Core, said on Twitter that many people could participate in such a project. He suggested to someone to create "gateways" to popular existing applications, such as WhatsApp or Signal, so that users do not have to download a brand new program to participate in Lightning chat.
The messages sent on the lightning are free for the moment. Whatsat "is based on the fact that a failed payment does not entail any costs. The payment reaches the recipient, the recipient extracts the message and the payment fails, "said Jager. But, if he further developed the idea, it would probably charge a symbolic amount. Flash payments currently cost a median of 0.0001 satoshis, a single satoshi (or 100 million bitcoins) currently worth a fraction of a cent.
"Surely there are people willing to pay for it, but at what price would it be obvious for almost anybody?" Asked Jager. "Suppose the average user sends 30 messages a day. This amounts to about 1 satoshi per message with the current bitcoin exchange rate. "
It's about a dollar a year.
"If the Lightning network evolves to a system capable of sustainably managing 1 payment (satoshi), I think that a private unauthorized messaging future is unlocked," Jager said.
"The Dispatch of the Messenger" by François Boucher image by the Metropolitan Museum of Art