Bitcoin's Lightning Network just got a big boost: 7 new apps, and a glimpse at a super-fast, open-source future.
This week, Blockstream showcased a #WeekofLApps, each day presenting a new, open-source Lightning App ("LApp") on the Lightning Network, Bitcoin's second-layer payment protocol. Because Lightning transactions are not recorded on a blockchain, payments are instant and carry near-zero fees. This allows for all sorts of micropayment possibilities not previously available online.
Here's a rundown of the seven LApps that Blockstream presented this week--all designed by Nadav Ivgi--and that are now free for the world to take, use, and improve:
(enabling digital content creators to sell files online)
What it does: FileBazaar enables creators of digital content (photos, songs, videos, documents, etc.) to sell digital files online and accept micropayments on the Lightning Network for their work. Creators are in full control of their work, and can list files, set prices, and decide where they want to receive the payment. They can also give viewers a preview--access to some of the file, like the first 30 seconds of a song--before prompting a micropayment to access the rest.
Why it's awesome: FileBazaar offers digital artists, musicians, writers, and filmmakers an alternative means to make money from their work, in addition or instead of advertising revenue or monthly Patreon subscriptions. Consumers get to pay artists directly with near-zero-fee transactions that clear instantly -- no iTunes required.
What it looks like: See FileBazaar in action in the gif below:
2.Lightning Publisher for WordPress
(helping writers earn a living from writing)
What it does: Lightning Publisher for WordPress is a WordPress plugin that lets writers and publishers collect instant micropayments for content published on a WordPress site. Readers can "preview" content on the site, and then make a Lightning micropayment to view the rest.
Why it's awesome: Like FileBazaar, Lightning Publisher offers writers and publishers an alternative model from ad-based funding. In the wake of Facebook's latest privacy debacle, more people are realizing that it's not just Facebook spying on them--ad-based surveillance has become the underlying model of the Internet economy. Lightning Publisher offers writers and publishers a way to make money that doesn't involve selling their readers' browsing habits to third parties, and offers readers an easy way to reward writers and publishers they like for content they produce.
What it looks like: See Lightning Publisher in action in the gif below:
(better online tipping)
What it does: Nanotip is a simple web server that acts as an online tip jar, accepting donations with better privacy than a Bitcoin address. You can post the tip jar anywhere--on a social media account, after a piece of independent journalism, and so on--and tippers have the option of leaving a note with their donation, too.
Why it's awesome: A tip jar gives your audiences a fast and easy way to say thanks for your work after they've read or seen it. Maybe you're a musician who hasn't yet built a big enough following, or an independent news agency breaking a big story--with nanotip, you don't have to ask for donations until after your work gets heard. Did a YouTube video teach you something new? Then nanotip can make it easy to say thanks, and support the artists who made it.
What it looks like: See nanotip in action in the gif below:
(incorporating lightning payments into APIs)
What it does: Paypercall allows for the monetization of API calls on a pay-per-call basis. In non-computerspeak, another way to think of it is that it allows websites to both a) give website data or perform services for parties who ask for it and b) charge them for that access or service.
Why it's awesome: Like other LApps, papyercall creates a new ways to fund projects and services on the Web. As one example, let's say you built an online service that can automatically add subtitles to videos, so when the video is later uploaded to social media, viewers can follow along without turning on volume. With paypercall, you can offer your service in exchange for micropayments on a per-video basis, with the service automatically delivering each request upon payment.
What it looks like: If you're not a developer this may look like gibberish, but for those interested here's an example of paying a papercall-enabled API:
5. nanopos -
(easy and instant point-of-sale transactions for merchants)
What it does: Nanopos is a simple Lightning point-of-sale system for selling items at physical stores. If you're a merchant who sells the same sort of items day-in and day-out (like a bodega, coffee shop, food cart, etc.), you can set up a simple interface for instant Lightning payments.
Why it's awesome: Systems like nanopos could set the groundwork for freeing merchants from billions of dollars in fees they pay to banks and credit cards for the privilege of letting customers pay with plastic. With nanopos, merchants at physical stores have another option: offer customers instant, near-free lightning payments instead.
What it looks like: You can see nanopos in operation at the Tel-Aviv Bitcoin Embassy, or in the video embedded below:
— Nadav Ivgi ⚡ (@shesek) March 26, 2018
6. Ifpaytt (If Pay Then That) -
(use Lightning payments to trigger IFTTT actions)
What it does: If Pay Then That (Ifpaytt) uses Lightning payments to trigger If This Then That (IFTTT) actions. If you've never used IFTTT, it's a service that allows you to set triggers ("if") and actions ("then that") that direct online services or Internet-connected physical products (for example, you can set your door to automatically lock when you leave your house). Ifpaytt adds a payment as a trigger possibility for IFTTT.
Why it's awesome: Lightning-fast payments meet the Internet of Things (IoT). If you walk up to a locked rental car and send a Lightning payment, then the car unlocks with the key in the ignition. If the payment is sent, then the service is automatically delivered.
What it looks like: Lots of possibilities, and here are some ideas:
7. Lightning Jukebox -
(jukebox music requests with Lightning)
What it does: Like paying to queue a song on a jukebox, Lightning Jukebox enables users to request, push, and queue YouTube songs or videos using Lightning Micropayments. One person hosts a YouTube player, and posts a linked payment address (QR code) anywhere--on the Internet, printed out on the table, or displayed on a tablet nearby. Then they start playing music. If someone else wants to add a video/song, they can make a payment to that address (at a rate set by the person hosting), and Lightning Jukebox will automatically queue it up as an upcoming video or song.
Why it's awesome: This isn't going to change the world, but it's fun, and shows how easy it is bring old systems like jukebox requests into the 21st century with Lightning. Right now it works for YouTube, but because it's open source, it's just one just developer away from versions that work with other services like Spotify or Apple Music.
What it looks like: You can see the Lightning Jukebox in action here:
Kudos to Blockstream and Nadav for this first round of LApps. What's even better is that these LApps, like the Lightning Network and Bitcoin itself, is open-source: anyone can run it, and contribute to its improvement. Lightning is still in its early days--connecting is still a fairly technical process--but more users are coming online, and developers are working on user-friendly Lightning Wallets.
An open-source instant payment protocol is huge. If it takes off, this is just the beginning.
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Misha holds a J.D. from Yale Law School, where he co-founded the Yale Law and Technology Society (TechSoc). He can be reached on Twitter @MishaGuttentag.