On Jan 26, 2019, Twitter user @MediumSqueeze announced that he had created a message relay that allows users to send text files on the Lightning Network using his Blockstream Satellite Client.
To send a file, users must pay an undetermined amount of millisatoshis.
Text on the Lightning Network
Blockstream is a private corporation developing Bitcoin-based technologies.
One such technology is the Blockstream Satellite network. It uses ground stations called “teleports” to send the Bitcoin blockchain to geosynchronous satellites owned by Blockstream. This allows the blockchain to theoretically remain accessible to anyone with the proper antenna and receiver.
Using the newly innovated Blockstream Satellite Client, users will be able to upload text files and send them on the Lightning Network testnet.
Every time a text file is sent, the sender will be required to pay a certain data rate for the transfer of the file. It is said that this fee should amount to some fluctuating number of millisatoshis. One millisatoshi is 0.1 percent of one satoshi — the smallest amount of fractional bitcoins. The amount paid for each file shared will vary.
Is This Practical?
If confidential or private text files are being transferred, using this message relay may be reasonable. However, paying for every file sent creates an impediment. Plenty of data being shared may be benefited by the security of the blockchain, but increased security might not justify paying fees on every text file shared. Furthermore, there is no determined rate for transfer, meaning the fee could theoretically change rapidly and possibly rise to such levels as to make the service inaccessible to those without high levels of disposable income.
While the blockchain may offer added security compared to other technologies, there already exist non-blockchain-based technologies which can encrypt and send text files securely. Why one person would switch from using these services — many of which are free — to pay to send every file is a question that still needs to be answered.
There also remains the possibility that there may be competition by other blockchain-based data sharing (BBDS) platforms. Their general theory and practical application are already being discussed throughout academic, technical, and general circles — with several in development or already released. Additionally, blockchain-based cloud storage platforms might also offer competition to Lightning Network text sharing services. Multiple users can access the data files within a decentralized cloud if they have the proper credentials.
Lastly, the only file type that can be shared using this service is text (.txt). Data sharing that incorporates other types of files may be necessary to make BBDS platforms practical for mass usage. As BBDS continues to evolve, many new platforms may likely integrate the sharing of images, videos, music, and more.
Problems with Blockstream
Two other problems with the platform relate more to Blockstream and less to the platform itself.
Centralization of Authority
Bitcoin was developed in alignment with the Nakamoto Theory of Decentralization, which holds that decentralized cryptocurrencies are to be used to remove the necessity of third-party intermediaries or centralized authorities.
Blockstream is a private company whose satellites and sidechains remain under its centralized control. As a centralized authority, Blockstream’s development of Bitcoin-based technology violates the basic tenets by which Bitcoin was developed.
Even if users are able to use some of Blockstream’s technology — like uniquely created sidechains — without direct third-party intermediaries, the third-party control of Blockstream remains.
Blockstream and Intercontinental Exchange
In Jan 2018, a partnership between Blockstream and Intercontinental Exchange (ICE) was announced.
ICE operates a number of financial exchanges across the world, including the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE). According to the Blockstream-ICE partnership, Blockstream launched the Cryptocurrency Data Feed, which is distributed by ICE, through its Data Services’ Consolidated Feed. The purpose of this feed is to give crypto traders and investors access to real-time cryptoasset data.
ICE has already partnered with other crypto companies, like Coinbase, and its influence within the crypto industry expands each time it partners with a new crypto company. This is possibly detrimental to the overall crypto industry and might impede proper mass adoption of cryptoassets.
ICE seems to equate the use-value of all cryptoassets to mere exchange-value. Limiting the purpose of a cryptoasset to its tradeable exchange-value ignores the wider purposes for which it and other implementations of blockchain technology can be used.
While the usage of the Lightning Network to send text files is a novel feature, it may possess little practical usage. Nonetheless, the sharing of confidential and private text files may be one use-case for this innovation.
In any case, using the Bitcoin-based technologies developed by centralized corporations like Blockstream may not be in the best interest for the crypto industry for a variety of reasons, including the centralized authority of Blockstream and its partnership with ICE.
Do you think sharing texts across the Lightning Network poses any practical usage, or will its price tag keep people using the tech they’re used to? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!