Issue #605: A messaging app on the Lightning Network
(4 NOVEMBER 2019 / MARTY’S ɃENT)
It was a low-key weekend for the Bent family. With the impending doom of the clock rollback, we decided to keep it close to home on Saturday. A nice stroll to the coffee shop in our old neighborhood followed by a trip to the local butcher to pick up some quality cuts before turning around and resigning ourselves to a day of leisure in our building. There I was, enjoying my day, when our boy Joost came out of nowhere and dropped this bomb of a project on the world. WHATSAT, “a fork of
lnd that demonstrates how the Lightning Network can be used as an end-to-end encrypted, onion-routed, censorship-resistant, peer-to-peer chat messages protocol.”
You may be sitting there thinking, “So what, Marty? Another messaging app. Big whoop.” Well freak, this isn’t your average messaging app. This app, which is still just a prototype to prove a use case at this point, is like no other messaging app you’ve ever used before. The gif that is attached to the tweet above is a glimpse of what can be enabled using the Bitcoin/Lightning stack. The ability to natively attach easily readable messages to Lightning Network payments and incentivize their successful transfer throughout the network with microfees introduces a base functionality that I imagine can lead to some pretty cool applications.
Big corporations like Amazon, Facebook and Walmart, among others, are engaged in a race to replicate the success of apps like AliPay and WeChat, which have locked their users into a walled garden, one-stop-shop for all of their essential economic needs. Need to shop online, book a train ticket, coordinate with a family member, or pay a bill? All of this can be done via these applications. This all seems great until one realizes that these walled gardens are used as points of control by the State. In China, apps like AliPay and WeChat are surveilled and used to help implement the Chinese State’s social credit system. Is it so far fetched to believe that if any of the American companies listed above are successful in building their versions of AliPay and WeChat that the US government and the powers that be in our intelligence community may try to use these apps as points of control as well? Uncle Marty doesn’t think it’s THAT crazy.
Regardless of whether or not you think that scenario is likely or not, it’s the wrong framing to approach this situation. We should be aiming to build systems that cannot be easily coerced to cooperate with the State and their view of the world. The primitives on display above with WHATSAT are proving that we can build these systems without a central corporation or entity behind the application. We can build AliPay and WeChat for the people, by the people, without the long dick of the government up in your business.
After seeing the WHATSAPP demo, it’s not hard to envision people building apps and user interfaces on top of these primitives that allow users to send payable invoices with messages attached in a P2P fashion. Connecting with the nodes of their service providers to send payments directly without anyone else seeing, simply chatting without the ability to be surveilled or censored, or some other unique use case that we cannot even fathom at the moment. All in one place. All leveraging the assurances of the Bitcoin blockchain.
The race is on. What model will win out, at least in the West, is yet to be determined. What kind of future do you want?
My wife has perfected her vodka sauce.