This is an opinion editorial by Obi Nwosu, full-time Bitcoin advocate and board member for ₿trust, a not-for profit organization originally conceived by Jack Dorsey and Jay-Z to fund the location, education and remuneration of Bitcoin developers from untapped parts of the world, starting with Africa.
Who knew that a plane ride could change the future of Bitcoin?
There I was, on the way back from Lofoten in northern Norway, after an incredible and exhausting few days discussing how the Bitcoin community could support the objectives of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), charities and human rights defender groups from around the world, and I was knackered.
Most people on the plane were fast asleep — justly so — but I couldn’t get any rest, such was my excitement reflecting on the last three days. I noticed a few people at the front having a conversation and I decided to join them. Jeff Booth, Lyudmyla Kozlovska, and Leopoldo Lopez were excitedly discussing how Bitcoin could be rolled out in the regions that their human rights defender groups operate in at scale.
I listened in on the conversation. They were explaining that with the right app, they could grow adoption of Bitcoin exponentially and in so doing help the people that they cared so deeply about.
NGOs, charities, human rights defenders and activists have come to the realization that many of their challenges have a financial root. The people they are trying to help are prevented from accessing the global financial economy and locked into using their regime’s currency — often with two, three, four or even five-figure inflation — making it impossible to save, plan or escape their monetary shackles.
By having simple, safe and private access to Bitcoin, anyone anywhere could have access to a currency that can’t have its inflation manipulated by any regime for their gain and to their citizens’ loss. Having access to the Lightning Network would enable these people to quickly and cheaply receive money from NGOs, charities, their relatives in the diaspora or transact with international merchants and each other — all while protecting their privacy. However, existing options were too restricted such that the target users could not access them, or they were too complex and expensive or they were not designed to scale globally while protecting privacy.
With the right solution, these highly effective operators already had the facilities, knowledge and know-how needed to get hundreds, thousands, even millions of people in some of the most oppressed countries in the world to learn about Bitcoin and adopt a wallet. And if this wallet was easy enough to install and use then it would simply be a matter of letting the power of network effects do the rest. What would start with one million users would quickly become 10, then 100, and beyond. It sounded audacious but it was feasible that within a very short period, we could have one billion users on Bitcoin.
Strengthening the financial tools available to oppressed communities and the NGOs that champion their causes ultimately strengthens democracy. This ultimately creates better futures for countries, struggling under oppressive regimes, and makes the world a better, more fair place.
Ever since meeting Elsirion at the Hacker’s Congress in Prague nearly a year earlier, and discovering Fedimint for the first time, I had dedicated my time to promoting, sponsoring and ensuring its growth. Now, what was crystal clear to me was the realization that Fedimint was the technology purpose-built to make the vision of rapidly getting to a billion Bitcoiners a reality.
One of the biggest challenges to bitcoin adoption today is custody — it’s daunting for people to do self-custody, and custodial solutions pose issues including unclear and ever changing regulation or risk of loss. We need only look at some of the recent stories of regulated exchanges losing, spending, or risking the assets of their customers for cautionary examples. The need for a solution like Fedimint is greater than ever.
I’ve explained what Fedimint is in a previous Bitcoin Magazine article and during my talk at Bitcoin Miami 2022 but in summary, Fedimint is:
– A form of community Bitcoin custody.
– It utilizes federations, a Byzantine fault-tolerant multisig wallet technology similar to Blockstream’s Liquid Network).
– It’s run collectively by groups of trusted community members we call “guardians,” for and on behalf of their communities.
– Has privacy through Chaumian Ecash.
– And is closely integrated with the Lightning Network.
(more details can be found on the fedimint.org website and FAQ)
The result is a system that is simpler and more private than using an exchange or hardware wallet and that allows communities anywhere to take control of their bitcoin. Put simply, Fedimint is a form of bitcoin custody that is designed from the outset to work at global scale, enabling billions of people to receive, hold and spend bitcoin.
I shared my solution with Jeff, Leo, and Lyuda and in the discussion that followed, the idea was born for Fedi, the world’s simplest, most secure and private bitcoin wallet.
We would use the Fedimint custody protocol as the secure, simple and decentralized core that everything else would connect to. Just as importantly, there needed to be an equally strong user interface. I would work with the key people involved in Fedimint to form a commercial company to accelerate development. For rapid global growth, we would leverage the experience and skills of a group of NGOs, charities, activists and human rights defenders to bring Fedimint to their communities.
When I got back to my hometown of Lisbon, Portugal, the work began. Until this point Fedimint had been progressing as an open-source protocol project with a long-term plan to build a company around commercializing the user interface. Oslo changed everything. I described my experience to Elsirion, the inventor of Fedimint and Justin Moon, the founder of one of the largest Bitcoin meetups in North America, explained the desperate need and the bold new vision. They quickly saw the key role that the Fedimint protocol would play in helping those most in need around the world and agreed to join me as cofounders.
We then reached out to every Bitcoin-focused VC in the quest for capital partners who would understand the vision and were ready to come along on the journey. The response was phenomenal. We started with Kingsway Capital, a prolific investor in technology companies serving the Global South and more recently, Bitcoin companies. I reached out to Ten 31 VC who had been long-time supporters of Elsirion, the Fedimint protocol and me. And of course, I talked to ego death capital, as Jeff Booth was a key reason why I had come up with the growth strategy that catalyzed the project. Within a week not only had we raised our target seed, we had exceeded it and had to increase it twice. Within a month, we had closed the round. Beyond our lead investors, we were also fortunate to have investments from Trammell Venture Partners, Hivemind VC, Timechain, Recursive Capital and Steve Lee.
It is not only venture funding. The open-source Fedimint protocol project has attracted the support of a wide range of organizations. Blockstream was the first to recognize the potential and has been sponsoring the project for years and has recently renewed their commitment. Long before making an equity investment, Ten 31 VC had provided a BTC grant which signaled to the team that we were on to something. More recently, Spiral, which is part of Block, agreed to provide a number of grants for developers working full-time on the project. The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) has generously donated to Fedimint and I have Alex Gladstein of the HRF to thank for inviting me to the Oslo Freedom Forum, where this all happened, in the first place. And finally, I had made a small donation towards the project.
The reason for the rapid response — even in this period of bearish sentiment — was simple. Everyone could see that this was Bitcoin’s missing link — decentralized, privacy-preserving, Bitcoin custody. Furthermore, it solved a problem for a group of people who needed it the most and it solved it in a way that would send a signal to the rest of the world and prove once and for all that Bitcoin was not only useful, but essential for making the world a better, freer place.
Today my incredible partners, Elsirion and Justin Moon, are working with a growing list of talented open-source protocol engineers and designers, furiously working around the clock to make Fedimint and Fedi a reality. A year ago, Elsirion guessed that he would need 24 months or so to get the first prototype of Fedimint working. But within a few months of our combined talk at Bitcoin Miami 2022, and the influx of dedicated and talented developers that came about as a result, we had a working prototype. They continue to work on development, and the funding and support we have will drive progress of the Fedimint protocol and the Fedi app further and faster.
Finally, I will have the privilege and honor of working with some of the most prolific and accomplished activists in the world. These include Lyudmyla Kozlovska, who has a track record of successfully defending the rights of people in Ukraine and post-Soviet Europe as
the president of the Open Dialogue Foundation. We also have Leopoldo Lopez, who for years has defended the freedoms of Venezuelans, and other Latin Americans under the yoke of oppressive regimes, even when it cost him his own liberty; Farida Nabourema, the founder of Afro Bitcoin 2022, the first West African Bitcoin conference, who speaks eloquently on the challenges of places like her home country of Togo suffering under the weight of monetary colonialism due to the colonial franc; and Fadi Elsalameen, who has helped to raise awareness of the challenges of people living in the Middle East. I will be working with them to formulate roll out strategies tuned for the challenges of each particular region, and use their wealth of on-the-ground knowledge and experience to ensure that Fedi is designed to meet their needs.
Over the coming months we will all be working in parallel to complete and roll out the first version of the Fedimint protocol, launch the Fedi app — which to our knowledge will be the first Bitcoin wallet to be built using the human-centered design method pioneered by IDEO, and to plan, test and implement our rapid global growth strategy — powered by freedom-loving people around the world. Bitcoin has been waiting for a technology for global Bitcoin adoption and Fedi, powered by Fedimint, is it.
This is a guest post by Obi Nwosu. Opinions expressed are entirely their own and do not necessarily reflect those of BTC Inc or Bitcoin Magazine.
El Salvador Takes First Step To Issue Bitcoin Volcano Bonds
El Salvador’s Minister of the Economy Maria Luisa Hayem Brevé submitted a digital assets issuance bill to the country’s legislative assembly, paving the way for the launch of its bitcoin-backed “volcano” bonds.
First announced one year ago today, the pioneering initiative seeks to attract capital and investors to El Salvador. It was revealed at the time the plans to issue $1 billion in bonds on the Liquid Network, a federated Bitcoin sidechain, with the proceedings of the bonds being split between a $500 million direct allocation to bitcoin and an investment of the same amount in building out energy and bitcoin mining infrastructure in the region.
A sidechain is an independent blockchain that runs parallel to another blockchain, allowing for tokens from that blockchain to be used securely in the sidechain while abiding by a different set of rules, performance requirements, and security mechanisms. Liquid is a sidechain of Bitcoin that allows bitcoin to flow between the Liquid and Bitcoin networks with a two-way peg. A representation of bitcoin used in the Liquid network is referred to as L-BTC. Its verifiably equivalent amount of BTC is managed and secured by the network’s members, called functionaries.
“Digital securities law will enable El Salvador to be the financial center of central and south America,” wrote Paolo Ardoino, CTO of cryptocurrency exchange Bitfinex, on Twitter.
Bitfinex is set to be granted a license in order to be able to process and list the bond issuance in El Salvador.
The bonds will pay a 6.5% yield and enable fast-tracked citizenship for investors. The government will share half the additional gains with investors as a Bitcoin Dividend once the original $500 million has been monetized. These dividends will be dispersed annually using Blockstream’s asset management platform.
The act of submitting the bill, which was hinted at earlier this year, kickstarts the first major milestone before the bonds can see the light of day. The next is getting it approved, which is expected to happen before Christmas, a source close to President Nayib Bukele told Bitcoin Magazine. The bill was submitted on November 17 and presented to the country’s Congress today. It is embedded in full below.
How I’ll Talk To Family Members About Bitcoin This Thanksgiving
This is an opinion editorial by Joakim Book, a Research Fellow at the American Institute for Economic Research, contributor and copy editor for Bitcoin Magazine and a writer on all things money and financial history.
That’s it. That’s the article.
In all sincerity, that is the full message: Just don’t do it. It’s not worth it.
You’re not an excited teenager anymore, in desperate need of bragging credits or trying out your newfound wisdom. You’re not a preaching priestess with lost souls to save right before some imminent arrival of the day of reckoning. We have time.
Instead: just leave people alone. Seriously. They came to Thanksgiving dinner to relax and rejoice with family, laugh, tell stories and zone out for a day — not to be ambushed with what to them will sound like a deranged rant in some obscure topic they couldn’t care less about. Even if it’s the monetary system, which nobody understands anyway.
If you’re not convinced of this Dale Carnegie-esque social approach, and you still naively think that your meager words in between bites can change anybody’s view on anything, here are some more serious reasons for why you don’t talk to friends and family about Bitcoin the protocol — but most certainly not bitcoin, the asset:
- Your family and friends don’t want to hear it. Move on.
- For op-sec reasons, you don’t want to draw unnecessary attention to the fact that you probably have a decent bitcoin stack. Hopefully, family and close friends should be safe enough to confide in, but people talk and that gossip can only hurt you.
- People find bitcoin interesting only when they’re ready to; everyone gets the price they deserve. Like Gigi says in “21 Lessons:”
“Bitcoin will be understood by you as soon as you are ready, and I also believe that the first fractions of a bitcoin will find you as soon as you are ready to receive them. In essence, everyone will get ₿itcoin at exactly the right time.”
It’s highly unlikely that your uncle or mother-in-law just happens to be at that stage, just when you’re about to sit down for dinner.
- Unless you can claim youth, old age or extreme poverty, there are very few people who genuinely haven’t heard of bitcoin. That means your evangelizing wouldn’t be preaching to lost, ignorant souls ready to be saved but the tired, huddled and jaded masses who could care less about the discovery that will change their societies more than the internal combustion engine, internet and Big Government combined. Big deal.
- What is the case, however, is that everyone in your prospective audience has already had a couple of touchpoints and rejected bitcoin for this or that standard FUD. It’s a scam; seems weird; it’s dead; let’s trust the central bankers, who have our best interest at heart.
No amount of FUD busting changes that impression, because nobody holds uninformed and fringe convictions for rational reasons, reasons that can be flipped by your enthusiastic arguments in-between wiping off cranberry sauce and grabbing another turkey slice.
- It really is bad form to talk about money — and bitcoin is the best money there is. Be classy.
Now, I’m not saying to never ever talk about Bitcoin. We love to talk Bitcoin — that’s why we go to meetups, join Twitter Spaces, write, code, run nodes, listen to podcasts, attend conferences. People there get something about this monetary rebellion and have opted in to be part of it. Your unsuspecting family members have not; ambushing them with the wonders of multisig, the magically fast Lightning transactions or how they too really need to get on this hype train, like, yesterday, is unlikely to go down well.
However, if in the post-dinner lull on the porch someone comes to you one-on-one, whisky in hand and of an inquisitive mind, that’s a very different story. That’s personal rather than public, and it’s without the time constraints that so usually trouble us. It involves clarifying questions or doubts for somebody who is both expressively curious about the topic and available for the talk. That’s rare — cherish it, and nurture it.
Last year I wrote something about the proper role of political conversations in social settings. Since November was also election month, it’s appropriate to cite here:
“Politics, I’m starting to believe, best belongs in the closet — rebranded and brought out for the specific occasion. Or perhaps the bedroom, with those you most trust, love, and respect. Not in public, not with strangers, not with friends, and most certainly not with other people in your community. Purge it from your being as much as you possibly could, and refuse to let political issues invade the areas of our lives that we cherish; politics and political disagreements don’t belong there, and our lives are too important to let them be ruled by (mostly contrived) political disagreements.”
If anything, those words seem more true today than they even did then. And I posit to you that the same applies for bitcoin.
Everyone has some sort of impression or opinion of bitcoin — and most of them are plain wrong. But there’s nothing people love more than a savior in white armor, riding in to dispel their errors about some thing they are freshly out of fucks for. Just like politics, nobody really cares.
Leave them alone. They will find bitcoin in their own time, just like all of us did.
This is a guest post by Joakim Book. Opinions expressed are entirely their own and do not necessarily reflect those of BTC Inc or Bitcoin Magazine.
RGB Magic: Client-Side Contracts On Bitcoin
This is an opinion editorial by Federico Tenga, a long time contributor to Bitcoin projects with experience as start-up founder, consultant and educator.
The term “smart contracts” predates the invention of the blockchain and Bitcoin itself. Its first mention is in a 1994 article by Nick Szabo, who defined smart contracts as a “computerized transaction protocol that executes the terms of a contract.” While by this definition Bitcoin, thanks to its scripting language, supported smart contracts from the very first block, the term was popularized only later by Ethereum promoters, who twisted the original definition as “code that is redundantly executed by all nodes in a global consensus network”
While delegating code execution to a global consensus network has advantages (e.g. it is easy to deploy unowed contracts, such as the popularly automated market makers), this design has one major flaw: lack of scalability (and privacy). If every node in a network must redundantly run the same code, the amount of code that can actually be executed without excessively increasing the cost of running a node (and thus preserving decentralization) remains scarce, meaning that only a small number of contracts can be executed.
But what if we could design a system where the terms of the contract are executed and validated only by the parties involved, rather than by all members of the network? Let us imagine the example of a company that wants to issue shares. Instead of publishing the issuance contract publicly on a global ledger and using that ledger to track all future transfers of ownership, it could simply issue the shares privately and pass to the buyers the right to further transfer them. Then, the right to transfer ownership can be passed on to each new owner as if it were an amendment to the original issuance contract. In this way, each owner can independently verify that the shares he or she received are genuine by reading the original contract and validating that all the history of amendments that moved the shares conform to the rules set forth in the original contract.
This is actually nothing new, it is indeed the same mechanism that was used to transfer property before public registers became popular. In the U.K., for example, it was not compulsory to register a property when its ownership was transferred until the ‘90s. This means that still today over 15% of land in England and Wales is unregistered. If you are buying an unregistered property, instead of checking on a registry if the seller is the true owner, you would have to verify an unbroken chain of ownership going back at least 15 years (a period considered long enough to assume that the seller has sufficient title to the property). In doing so, you must ensure that any transfer of ownership has been carried out correctly and that any mortgages used for previous transactions have been paid off in full. This model has the advantage of improved privacy over ownership, and you do not have to rely on the maintainer of the public land register. On the other hand, it makes the verification of the seller’s ownership much more complicated for the buyer.
How can the transfer of unregistered properties be improved? First of all, by making it a digitized process. If there is code that can be run by a computer to verify that all the history of ownership transfers is in compliance with the original contract rules, buying and selling becomes much faster and cheaper.
Secondly, to avoid the risk of the seller double-spending their asset, a system of proof of publication must be implemented. For example, we could implement a rule that every transfer of ownership must be committed on a predefined spot of a well-known newspaper (e.g. put the hash of the transfer of ownership in the upper-right corner of the first page of the New York Times). Since you cannot place the hash of a transfer in the same place twice, this prevents double-spending attempts. However, using a famous newspaper for this purpose has some disadvantages:
- You have to buy a lot of newspapers for the verification process. Not very practical.
- Each contract needs its own space in the newspaper. Not very scalable.
- The newspaper editor can easily censor or, even worse, simulate double-spending by putting a random hash in your slot, making any potential buyer of your asset think it has been sold before, and discouraging them from buying it. Not very trustless.
For these reasons, a better place to post proof of ownership transfers needs to be found. And what better option than the Bitcoin blockchain, an already established trusted public ledger with strong incentives to keep it censorship-resistant and decentralized?
If we use Bitcoin, we should not specify a fixed place in the block where the commitment to transfer ownership must occur (e.g. in the first transaction) because, just like with the editor of the New York Times, the miner could mess with it. A better approach is to place the commitment in a predefined Bitcoin transaction, more specifically in a transaction that originates from an unspent transaction output (UTXO) to which the ownership of the asset to be issued is linked. The link between an asset and a bitcoin UTXO can occur either in the contract that issues the asset or in a subsequent transfer of ownership, each time making the target UTXO the controller of the transferred asset. In this way, we have clearly defined where the obligation to transfer ownership should be (i.e in the Bitcoin transaction originating from a particular UTXO). Anyone running a Bitcoin node can independently verify the commitments and neither the miners nor any other entity are able to censor or interfere with the asset transfer in any way.
Since on the Bitcoin blockchain we only publish a commitment of an ownership transfer, not the content of the transfer itself, the seller needs a dedicated communication channel to provide the buyer with all the proofs that the ownership transfer is valid. This could be done in a number of ways, potentially even by printing out the proofs and shipping them with a carrier pigeon, which, while a bit impractical, would still do the job. But the best option to avoid the censorship and privacy violations is establish a direct peer-to-peer encrypted communication, which compared to the pigeons also has the advantage of being easy to integrate with a software to verify the proofs received from the counterparty.
This model just described for client-side validated contracts and ownership transfers is exactly what has been implemented with the RGB protocol. With RGB, it is possible to create a contract that defines rights, assigns them to one or more existing bitcoin UTXO and specifies how their ownership can be transferred. The contract can be created starting from a template, called a “schema,” in which the creator of the contract only adjusts the parameters and ownership rights, as is done with traditional legal contracts. Currently, there are two types of schemas in RGB: one for issuing fungible tokens (RGB20) and a second for issuing collectibles (RGB21), but in the future, more schemas can be developed by anyone in a permissionless fashion without requiring changes at the protocol level.
To use a more practical example, an issuer of fungible assets (e.g. company shares, stablecoins, etc.) can use the RGB20 schema template and create a contract defining how many tokens it will issue, the name of the asset and some additional metadata associated with it. It can then define which bitcoin UTXO has the right to transfer ownership of the created tokens and assign other rights to other UTXOs, such as the right to make a secondary issuance or to renominate the asset. Each client receiving tokens created by this contract will be able to verify the content of the Genesis contract and validate that any transfer of ownership in the history of the token received has complied with the rules set out therein.
So what can we do with RGB in practice today? First and foremost, it enables the issuance and the transfer of tokenized assets with better scalability and privacy compared to any existing alternative. On the privacy side, RGB benefits from the fact that all transfer-related data is kept client-side, so a blockchain observer cannot extract any information about the user’s financial activities (it is not even possible to distinguish a bitcoin transaction containing an RGB commitment from a regular one), moreover, the receiver shares with the sender only blinded UTXO (i. e. the hash of the concatenation between the UTXO in which she wish to receive the assets and a random number) instead of the UTXO itself, so it is not possible for the payer to monitor future activities of the receiver. To further increase the privacy of users, RGB also adopts the bulletproof cryptographic mechanism to hide the amounts in the history of asset transfers, so that even future owners of assets have an obfuscated view of the financial behavior of previous holders.
In terms of scalability, RGB offers some advantages as well. First of all, most of the data is kept off-chain, as the blockchain is only used as a commitment layer, reducing the fees that need to be paid and meaning that each client only validates the transfers it is interested in instead of all the activity of a global network. Since an RGB transfer still requires a Bitcoin transaction, the fee saving may seem minimal, but when you start introducing transaction batching they can quickly become massive. Indeed, it is possible to transfer all the tokens (or, more generally, “rights”) associated with a UTXO towards an arbitrary amount of recipients with a single commitment in a single bitcoin transaction. Let’s assume you are a service provider making payouts to several users at once. With RGB, you can commit in a single Bitcoin transaction thousands of transfers to thousands of users requesting different types of assets, making the marginal cost of each single payout absolutely negligible.
Another fee-saving mechanism for issuers of low value assets is that in RGB the issuance of an asset does not require paying fees. This happens because the creation of an issuance contract does not need to be committed on the blockchain. A contract simply defines to which already existing UTXO the newly issued assets will be allocated to. So if you are an artist interested in creating collectible tokens, you can issue as many as you want for free and then only pay the bitcoin transaction fee when a buyer shows up and requests the token to be assigned to their UTXO.
Furthermore, because RGB is built on top of bitcoin transactions, it is also compatible with the Lightning Network. While it is not yet implemented at the time of writing, it will be possible to create asset-specific Lightning channels and route payments through them, similar to how it works with normal Lightning transactions.
RGB is a groundbreaking innovation that opens up to new use cases using a completely new paradigm, but which tools are available to use it? If you want to experiment with the core of the technology itself, you should directly try out the RGB node. If you want to build applications on top of RGB without having to deep dive into the complexity of the protocol, you can use the rgb-lib library, which provides a simple interface for developers. If you just want to try to issue and transfer assets, you can play with Iris Wallet for Android, whose code is also open source on GitHub. If you just want to learn more about RGB you can check out this list of resources.
This is a guest post by Federico Tenga. Opinions expressed are entirely their own and do not necessarily reflect those of BTC Inc or Bitcoin Magazine.