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Blockstream Launches Tokenized Assets Tool on Liquid Sidechain

Blockchain startup Blockstream announced a new custom token creation platform on Monday.

The firm has officially launched the Issued Assets (IA) program on its bitcoin-backed Liquid sidechain, allowing users to create their own tokenized assets, according to a press release. These tokens can represent any sort of financial instrument, including fiat currency, crypto assets or attested assets (such as gold coins), as well as more novel types.

Users can also adopt Confidential Assets to enable private transactions between blockchain assets, ensuring only the parties involved in a transaction will know the asset type and value being traded.

Moreover, users can conduct atomic swaps between bitcoin and IA that include altcoins, meaning that a bitcoin can be exchanged for an asset in a single transaction without using intermediaries. Finalizing a transaction takes less than 2 minutes, the startup said.

Blockstream previewed the tool at CoinDesk’s Consensus 2018 conference in New York, demonstrating how the Liquid platform could be used to issue five different types of IA, representing physical goods.

In the demonstration, these assets included shirts and hoodies – and these tokens were randomly sent to attendees’ paper wallets. Each paper wallet had a public key, and the owners were able to redeem the tokens for each asset it contained. After the physical gifts were redeemed, the digital assets were destroyed.

Image via Shutterstock.

The leader in blockchain news, CoinDesk is a media outlet that strives for the highest journalistic standards and abides by a strict set of editorial policies. CoinDesk is an independent operating subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which invests in cryptocurrencies and blockchain startups.

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Bitcoin Developer Jimmy Song: Private Blockchains Make ‘Zero Sense’

Bitcoin (BTC) developer Jimmy Song stated that using blockchain tech for a private, centralized system, such as an enterprise, ‘makes zero sense’ in an interview with Laura Shin June 26.

Song, also a venture partner at Blockchain Capital, spoke on the podcast Unchained about his work as an architect on an enterprise private blockchain at Paxos for two years, noting that he “couldn’t” make a private blockchain work:

“Every single time I came back to the same thing, you have to have some central point of failure, in which case a blockchain makes zero sense […] I tried so hard […] to make that work, and I couldn’t find the way to do it without centralizing a large part of it, at which point it kind of becomes pointless.”

Song then explained the difference between a federated system for blockchain, mentioning Blockstream, as well as other enterprise private blockchains like IBM’s Hyperledger and Corda. In Song’s words, there are two problems that prevent the technology from working: “the oracle problem [and] the regulator problem.”

Song explains how the “oracle problem” comes up when you bind a real world asset to the blockchain:

“Once you do that, then you lose a lot of the protections that you get from say, the gold bar being in the vault. Say, if somebody steals that token, who does that gold bar belong to?”

The “regulator problem” Song refers to involves the need for a regulator to have “direct access” to a blockchain, specifically a private federated chain.

Song then uses the Hyperledger platform as an example of the centralization issue, explaining how their “ordering service” is really a central point that determines which transactions are added to the blockchain:

“It’s actually a very powerful central entity […] they get to determine the order, that’s kind of a central point of failure to me.”

Song also brings up the economics behind a given company employing blockchain technology, arguing that an enterprise would need to centrally control the system in order to profit from it:

“You need to justify why they’re paying you […] if they’re just running software and you’re not really doing anything, then it doesn’t really make sense.”

Also during the interview, Song set his terms for a recent bet made with Ethereum (ETH) co-founder Joseph Lubin during this year’s Consensus conference, where Lubin wagered “any amount of Bitcoin” that Song is wrong that most blockchain-based projects will be obsolete in five years.

In February of this year, Song announced an initiative designed to educate and compensate Bitcoin developers.

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Lightning Network Development Forges On, As Bitcoin Fees Decline To Under One Dollar

Lightning Network Development Continues

Blockstream, a firm focused on the development of cryptocurrency infrastructure, recently announced the release of c-lightning 0.6, a protocol built on the Lightning Network.

For the uninitiated, the Lightning Network is a Bitcoin scaling solution built upon the idea of near-instant transactions that cost under a cent. The early stages of the Lightning Network rolled out within the past year, have been met with mixed reviews, with some stating that it isn’t ready for widespread adoption.

This new and improved protocol is a complete revamp of the previous version, allowing for the implementation of new features, that will hopefully allow for a better user experience.

The new features included in c-lightning 0.6 are as follows:

  • Lightweight Nodes

This feature allows for a c-lightning Bitcoin node to be run on low-powered devices like the Raspberry Pi, allowing for higher node adoption.

  • ‘Gossip’ Protocol

This new protocol essentially allows low-powered and mobile devices operating on the Lightning Network to use less bandwidth while syncing up with the network, saving bandwidth through the omission of data that isn’t needed.

  • API Stability

The API stability seen in this new update will allow for projects to be built on top of c-lightning, as Blockstream will support the API for the “foreseeable future.”

  • Wallet and sync

C-lightning now has a wallet that supports on-chain and off-chain funds for the Lightning Network. This system will be fully secure, with users not being required to directly interact with the wallet to move funds to the internal wallet

  • TOR support

This feature is simple enough as c-lightning now accepts nodes run over the TOR network, increasing the privacy and anonymity of node operators.

  • Payment Logic

Some users of the Lightning Network find trouble making consistent transactions. However, c-Lightning 0.6 has improved its logic system, allowing for better transaction management through “automatic retires for routing failures, randomization of route selection and better feedback about the current state of a payment.”

Lightning Network Grows At A Rapid Rate

Many users criticized the Lightning Network for having a low Bitcoin capacity, with some users reporting that the network had a capacity of less than one Bitcoin. This was true, there were only 46 channels for the Lightning Network in January, bringing its capacity to around 0.682 Bitcoin. Since then, the Lightning Network has grown rapidly, and now has over 7,800 open channels with a staggering 26 Bitcoin channel throughput.

The Blockstream Blog stated:

That is a 16,856% increase in channels and a 4,084% increase in channel capacity in 6 months!

Many users hope that this adoption can continue, as the Lightning Network cements itself as a viable way in which Bitcoin can scale to the masses.

Bitcoin Fees Drop To Manageable Levels

Although development continues on the popular scaling solution (Lightning Network), Bitcoin fees have dropped to sustainable levels, finding stability at around one U.S. dollar. Although seen as a positive development by some, others have begun to worry that this decrease in fees in due to lack of interest in the use of the Bitcoin blockchain. Some attributed the slowdown to decreasing prices (and hype), along with other users just ‘HODLing’ their cryptocurrencies.

In addition, Segwit adoption has also become prevalent, with many cryptocurrency services offering support for Segwit as a way to decrease transaction fees. This $1 fee is a far cry from what was seen months ago, as Bitcoin fees temporarily reached over $50. At that time, users began to criticize BTC for having fees that resembled traditional financial institutions.

Since then, Bitcoin fees have remained a popular topic in the industry, as altcoins like Ethereum and Litecoin offer fees that are often under 10 cents. It is clear that if Bitcoin fees will need to continue lower if it wants to hold its place as the figurehead of ‘digital cash’, through the use of scaling solutions like Segwit and the Lightning Network. 

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Can the Lightning Network Avoid Going Corporate?

Not yet out of beta, hundreds of developers around the world are already experimenting with bitcoin’s newest technology – the Lightning Network – donating time and resources to help lay the groundwork for a more scalable version of the oldest and largest cryptocurrency yet created.

So great has been the effort that there are now more than 1,000 lightning nodes estimated to be running the software on live computers, largely at a loss, but motivated by the greater gain of making the bitcoin network more accessible and affordable. Still, with the network entering its bootstrapping phase, some are beginning to question when the economics of scale may begin to bring new pressures.

As the bitcoin community saw with the rise of cryptocurrency mining, in which at-home mining via PCs was quickly outpaced by industrial operationsprofits attract corporate interests. And experts admit, it’s entirely possible that companies could make money by offering easy access to quick cryptocurrency payments.

“If an entity is going to put a lot of value into payment channels and operate the node for generating profit,” BitGo engineer Jameson Lopp said. “Then it’s probably going to be similar to mining.”

Lopp’s argument is that all networks, no matter how grassroots at the start, eventually give way to specialists who are simply better at offering a more reliable services at a more affordable cost. In the case of Lightning, almost anyone with the technical skills and a little cryptocurrency can run Lightning channels, but offering a service in the future might be different.

For example, users of the network might not always be able to rely on the availability of others they’re sending money to, meaning intermediaries could emerge that offer services with better liquidity and payment routing.

“The [Lightning Network] will effectively centralize bitcoin with ‘channels’ and ‘hubs’ on the sidechains. These hubs will essentially function as banks,” a Twitter user going under the handle @marcotweetss said.

In many critics’ minds, institutions might offer so many of the biggest payment channels that they would essentially coalesce into “hubs.” That’s what Forbes and CoinDesk contributor Frances Coppola pointed out when she tweeted: “Lightning nodes are full-reserve banks, and the network is essentially a correspondent banking scheme.”

Beyond rogue volunteers, there’s also the involvement of companies such as Blockstream, ACINQ, and Lightning Labs, which have done a lot of the heavy-lifting related to the open-source Lightning Network software, and who, in the minds of critics, might be apt to play these roles.

These companies currently offer their services for free, even though they are venture-backed – Lightning Labs recently secured $2.5 million and Blockstream has raised $80 million so far – and as such, it’s believed they’ll eventually need to find a way to generate profits.

This business opportunity worries some cryptocurrency enthusiasts. After all, Silicon Valley startups from Facebook to Twitter have long perfected the model of getting users hooked on a free service, only to later embrace practices at scale that may not have the best interests of users in mind.

Yet, there are several reasons that, for the time being, there’s little need to worry.

Cooperative implementations 

For one, cheap access is emerging as a crucial difference between bitcoin’s blockchain and the Lightning Network.

In this way, MIT researcher Thaddeus Dryja, co-author of the original Lightning Network white paper and the former CTO of Lightning Labs, believes the network will avoid corporate centralization overall because of its design, which doesn’t require expensive or specialized hardware.

According to Dryja, users will be able to freely abandon institutional players that try to exert too much influence over individuals.

Let’s say everyone is using Amazon, for example, and Amazon says we’ll also route payments between users,” Dryja said. “If that node starts doing things people don’t like, it’s very cheap to close it. They never have your money.”

Along those lines, Lightning app developer Elaine Ou, argues that the barrier to entry for providing the default software is low, meaning should one company embrace poor practices, alternatives could quickly arise.

“There are two other Lightning implementations in use already, so I’m not too worried about centralization. The specs are open and updated through an open process,” she said.

None of this is to say the Lightning Network is infallibly egalitarian. The system still favors players with technical and financial resources, since channels need to have money in order to facilitate transactions. Parties with a large amount of capital could offer network nodes with more liquidity.

Dryja told CoinDesk that institutional players will probably factor into this growing network, saying:

“Having more large nodes is more efficient. I think it will be exchanges becoming the dominant players, at least in the first few years, and that’s not great. It would be great if people were running nodes off of Raspberry Pis in their houses.”

That’s why Lightning Labs CEO Elizabeth Stark told CoinDesk that her team strives to make the technology collaborative yet distinct from any company, including her namesake startup, adding: “The Lightning Network specification is open and anyone can build a compatible implementation.”

Lightning developer Jack Mallers, who created the free Zap Lightning wallet, will soon release consumer applications for both mobile and desktop. Those interfaces will make it even easier for average people to use Lightning without relying on corporate channels.

Low barrier to entry

It’s entirely possible that inherent fees could make Lightning too expensive for average users to constantly open and close channels. But so far, this isn’t the case.

Unlike bitcoin mining, which requires a great deal of expensive electricity, it usually costs just a few cents to open a Lightning channel. A channel hosting over 100,000 transactions still costs less than $20 to operate.

“Competition is really high on the network and the barrier to entry is low,” Mallers said, pointing to the fact he’s already gotten 19 volunteer developers to help him build Zap.

He added:

“Similar to the way people have bitcoin wallets on their phone today, eventually what you’ll be able to do is you’ll have a Lightning node on an iPhone or desktop, and it will be contacting other full nodes on the network, totally separate from your machine, pinging it for information.”

In fact, the upcoming Zap interface is just one of several Lightning projects allowing users to run a Lightning node without piggybacking on more complex bitcoin or litecoin nodes. Amazon might someday be able to offer the most efficient nodes, but any tech-savvy person with a laptop or mobile device will be able to tap into its stream.

Thanks to something called a lit or light client, those independent Lightning nodes can talk to other nodes to stay up to date on what is happening in the broader bitcoin network. There are already roughly 500 people participating in Zap group chats through platforms like Slack.

There are certainly tradeoffs. People with light clients won’t have all the blockchain data at their fingertips.

Regardless, this beginner-friendly option makes the lightning network remarkably different than cryptocurrency mining. As for companies like Lightning Labs and Blockstream, they have an economic incentive to avoid becoming legacy middlemen providers.

Reputations at stake

As for the allegations that one of these companies could become another Facebook, there’s reasons that this isn’t exactly likely, either.

Lightning Labs, for instance, benefits from cooperation with developers like Mallers and Ou, who aren’t on Stark’s payroll. For blockchain startups working on this open-source technology, their professional reputation relies on their perceived efforts to keep the bitcoin network mostly decentralized.

Corporate interests generally consolidate power and access, but the bitcoin community has proven it will combat such efforts, such as when a small group of people forked the bitcoin network to create bitcoin gold in an effort to curb industrial miners. Of course, the Lighting Network is much younger than bitcoin, and a split like that could have wider implications for the Lighting community.

If entrepreneurs want to continue spearheading Lightning development, they will have to avoid aligning themselves with any party seeking disproportionate influence.

“We don’t currently operate any Lightning nodes and that’s not part of our plan. We build infrastructure for other people to operate nodes and for the network as a whole,” Stark told CoinDesk.

Lightning Lab’s investor and BitGo CTO Ben Davenport echoed her sentiment, saying, “They are not going to monetize the protocol directly. But there are always opportunities for smart teams, who are early in an important space, to develop business models.”

Dryja told CoinDesk it’s still too early to say how this young technology will impact decentralization at large.

However, Mallers is optimistic because channel operators never take custody of user funds. Plus, anyone with the technical skills can actually choose the path their payments take. It will be easy for cypherpunks to avoid corporate channels. 

“You’re never reliant on any third party. You can even do configuration and choose which path you want to take,” Mallers said. “You can route around certain participants in the network if needed.”

Blockstream developer Rusty Russell believes Lightning’s community pendulum will swing back towards greater decentralization in the long run, and that the barrier to entry is the chief reason.

“It’s easier to accept Lightning payments than it is to accept on-chain [bitcoin] payments. So we’re seeing more people controlling their own payment infrastructure,” he said, adding:

“I think that will increase as we make the entire stack more usable, and it’s an excellent trend for the health of the ecosystem.”

Gas neon tubes image via Shutterstock

The leader in blockchain news, CoinDesk is a media outlet that strives for the highest journalistic standards and abides by a strict set of editorial policies. CoinDesk is an independent operating subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which invests in cryptocurrencies and blockchain startups.

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Where's Greg? Maxwell Eyes New Bitcoin Projects After Blockstream

One of bitcoin’s most respected developers, Gregory Maxwell, is returning to his cypherpunk roots with a series of new projects.

After nearly four years as CTO of high-profile bitcoin technology startup Blockstream, he’s departed that position to focus exclusively on code. Mainly because, as Maxwell explained in his departure letter, he accomplished what he set out to do at the startup, addressing the “significant under-investment” in bitcoin’s technology at the time he joined.

But with a “much larger and more active” developer community around bitcoin today, Maxwell is going into 2018 an untethered man set on improving bitcoin smart contracts.

In this pursuit, Maxwell published a paper on something called “Taproot” in mid-January, an idea that improves upon the privacy of MAST, an idea, long in the making, that could beef up bitcoin’s smart contract abilities. Days later, Maxwell released another proposal called “Graftroot,” improving on MAST further.

So, why is this focus so attractive for Maxwell?

Maxwell told CoinDesk:

“I expect every transaction to eventually use these tools, at least in limited ways. They are an incremental improvement, making things that were already more or less possible more private and efficient. They replace or make much better things like MAST.”

And so far, many developers have praised Maxwell’s new work.

“Taproot is annoyingly clever,” Lightning Network creator Tadge Dryja quipped on Twitter, adding that while the idea sounds simple in hindsight, no one had thought about it before Maxwell.

Like a dandelion?

Maxwell’s interest seems to be aligning with greater attention to MAST now that SegWit (a code change MAST depends on) has been activated on bitcoin.

To understand MAST, it’s helpful to start by looking one of the common use cases of bitcoin today – M-and-N multi-signatures, which require that coins can only be spent if a certain number of users (such as two-of-two, three-of-five) approve the transaction. One problem that can arise in these types of transactions is that one party loses their private key to sign with or just decides altogether not to comply, and at that point the money is unspendable.

MAST allows users to add additional conditions for when a transaction can be spent in a more efficient way, helping to solve the above issue.

For example, a transaction can be set to lose the need for multiple signatures, if the multi-signature funds aren’t spent after, say, 10 years. The magic of MAST is that it can cram all of this logic into one transaction efficiently.

In short, with Taproot and Graftroot, Maxwell has found a way to further improve privacy for these advanced transactions.

In Maxwell’s eyes, the problem with MAST as it stands is that each MAST transaction looks different than a normal transaction, which can be harmful for privacy, since people viewing bitcoin’s public ledger could theoretically glean which transactions are using MAST and in turn, more about financial transactions they have no business knowing anything about.

Taproot improves privacy in MAST instances where multi-signatures is used, by making those transactions, once settled on the blockchain, look the same as other transactions.

While Maxwell admits the use case is narrow, he told CoinDesk:

“There has been a lot of hype about smart contracts, but real and meaningful useage of them hasn’t caught up with that hype yet.”

But taking baby steps backed by real uses cases could help expand bitcoin’s value proposition as programmable money.

Both proposals, according to Maxwell, make smart contracts “easier to implement, more fee efficient and more private,” he said. “Taproot and Graftroot improve the backend technology for these advanced applications and by doing so will contribute to making them more accessible to people.”

And this ability to accomplish complex transactions without exposing that complexity is where Taproot specifically got its name.

“Taproot is most efficient to use for smart contract usage that resembles the root system of plants like a dandelion – a thick central path and small alternatives,” Maxwell said.

Simple but useful

While Maxwell is sold on the ideas, Taproot has attracted minor debate.

One of Maxwell’s former co-workers at Blockstream, Mark Friendenbach, argued that Taproot shows that MAST, if implemented a certain way, could cause problems in the future. His contention isn’t that Taproot itself is a bad proposal (in fact he argues the exact opposite), but that many of the MAST implementations on the table today aren’t built with future iterations in mind.

While Chaincode developer Matt Corallo said Taproot’s additional privacy is “absolutely massive to the ecosystem” and “should not be handwaved away for vague possibly-advantages.”

As long as Taproot and Graftroot get approval from developers and the community, though, Maxwell said it is possible to roll out the technologies alongside “future signature system upgrades,” such as aggregate signatures, another project Maxwell has contributed to.

But there could be some barriers still. According to Maxwell, bitcoin smart contracts are still a long way off.

“For real smart contracts like these to gain wide use a lot of additional work is required especially in the area of providing good user interfaces to use them,” he said.

But still, if disagreements are overcome, implementing and rolling out MAST with Taproot and Graftroot will be relatively painless.

Maxwell concluded:

“Taproot is one of these ideas which are very simple to implement but very useful.”

Disclosure: CoinDesk is a subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which has an ownership stake in Blockstream. 

Image via GregIsMissing.com

The leader in blockchain news, CoinDesk is an independent media outlet that strives for the highest journalistic standards and abides by a strict set of editorial policies. Interested in offering your expertise or insights to our reporting? Contact us at news@coindesk.com.

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Blockstream Devs Depart for New World Computer Project

Disrupting the internet?

Not just fodder for TV jokes, it’s a goal that continues to capture the imaginations of developers in the blockchain sphere, and Ben Gorlick and Johnny Dilley are no exception.

Turns out, the developers liked the idea so much they ditched one of the most renowned tech companies in the blockchain industry, Blockstream, to join up with a startup called Crowd Machine where they now serve as the CTO and chief of system architecture, respectively.

In short, the developers believe today’s cloud computing services, which power most of the internet, leave much to be desired. And, like many other blockchain and ICO projects, Crowd Machine thinks blockchain technology could be crucial to improving the situation.

But with this project, there’s a twist.

The long-in-development distributed cloud computer is unique in that it aims to harness the power of blockchain to make app creation faster and cheaper, and to do this using “any blockchain” they want, starting with ethereum.

The idea has already attracted a handful of Fortune 500 companies such as GE and Anthem, who are now customers of Crowd Machine (according to the project’s website). Other “big IoT” company partners are reportedly planning to use it as their primary application, to be revealed in the coming months.

Gorlick told CoinDesk:

“What we’re working on is a real gamechanger with the way in which software can be built and executed.”

That’s why Gorlick’s switching gears. Though he cherished working with “top minds in cryptocurrency and computer science” at Blockstream, he thinks it’s a problem that blockchains are so difficult to build on.

“Empowering people to do that,” he said, was a key reason he switched.

Crowd efficiency

To explain how Crowd Machine works, Gorlick offered the idea of a basic calendar app.

Usually such an app would be deployed on a commonly used cloud platform like Amazon Web Services (AWS) or Google Cloud, because these tools make it easier to deploy and manage websites. Under the hood, every time a users updates the calendar, in what’s called an “activity,” the developer is charged.

Gorlick thinks this setup is a “bottleneck” that leads to lot of waste.

The efficiency of Crowd Machine, Gorlick said, comes from breaking each of these activities into a bunch of pieces then shooting them off to a network of devices that each computes them together. “The still runs and executes the program, but users aren’t bottlenecked to a single provider,” he said.

If everything goes according to plan, users will be paid to run these programs on all sorts of devices, say if people have free space on their laptops, smartphones or even Internet of Things devices using Crowd Machine’s so-called “Crowd Computer,” set to be released in the final quarter of 2018.

“That’s where the crowd computer was born,” Gorlick said.

But, is this really a bottleneck for users? Gorlick offered the example banks using AWS have to reconcile their databases at the end of every day, a process that takes about an hour with platforms like AWS.

“What we figured out if we didn’t need to depend on a single providers to many devices. That cuts down the time significantly, to 10 seconds or a minute,” Gorlick said, adding:

“That’s going to be a huge money saver.”

It uses “strong federation,” an idea Gorlick and Dilley came up with while at Blockstream, to give guarantees that nodes will run the code as they’re supposed to – in part incentivized by the Crowd Machine tokens.

Coding without code

In short, the core idea is to cut down runtime costs, but another huge component is that Crowd Machine want to cut down the costs of creating the app as well.

“Writing a smart contract sounds quite daunting. The barrier needs to be lowered,” Gorlick said.

There are a few pieces to Crowd Machine, which makes it a bit confusing, almost with a “Rube Goldberg” feel to it. For example, the idea is you won’t necessary have to know how to code at all to be able to create blockchain apps, because Crowd App Studio allows users to create apps by way of a drag-and-drop visual interface.

One section of the app even allows users to design ethereum smart contracts without needing to know ethereum’s programming language, Solidity, which is notoriously difficult to learn.

Other blockchain languages, such as bitcoin’s Script, will be supported one day, too.

Gorlick went as far as to say his dream is to make it easier for users in developing countries in Africa and Southeast Asia to bring their blockchain ideas to fruition without the costs of AWS.

Will it work, though?

If these two pieces sound like unrelated, they actually tie together in a clever way.

While the general idea of a distributed computer has an been an idea for a long time, Gorlick thinks tying easy app creation with the network will help with this problem.

“It’s funny, there are a bunch of different companies out there looking to solve this problem of creating some sort of a supercomputer or a mesh network or edge computers,” Gorlick said.

But he believes all to date have been lacking.

“You kind of have the chicken-and-egg problem. If you build the best network ever, but you don’t have a development environment to utilize it, it won’t be used and you won’t get a network effect. You need to have a compelling reason to use a network in the first place,” Gorlick continued.

He thinks the missing piece could be a development environment along the lines of Crowd App Studio making it easy to actually deploy apps on the blockchain.

He concluded:

“We believe that having an environment where you can execute and run them on a whole variety of blockchains is a compelling reason.”

Crowd Machine image via YouTube

The leader in blockchain news, CoinDesk is an independent media outlet that strives for the highest journalistic standards and abides by a strict set of editorial policies. Interested in offering your expertise or insights to our reporting? Contact us at news@coindesk.com.

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NYSE Parent Company Launches Cryptocurrency Data Feed

Intercontinental Exchange (ICE), the parent company of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), is partnering with blockchain startup Blockstream to launch a new cryptocurrency-based data feed.

ICE Data Services’ feed will display real-time data from at least 15 different cryptocurrency exchanges worldwide, including prices and order book data for bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, according to a press release published today.

The Cryptocurrency Data Feed will provide price information against the dollar and other major currencies, and Blockstream will collect and format the data to help investors more easily track how different markets are performing.

ICE Data Services President and chief operating officer Lynn Martin said in a statement:

“With the broad array of cryptocurrencies and exchanges, and given the price variances between exchanges, it’s critical that investors have a comprehensive source of pricing information. We’re excited to work with Blockstream, which is focused on bringing institutional-quality data to the market, and we look forward to expanding the feed and our strategic relationship with Blockstream over time.”

Blockstream will be responsible for actually collecting the data from different exchanges, and will present it in a similar fashion to current data streams present in stock exchanges. The information presented will include real-time price data, as well as historical pricing.

Disclosure: CoinDesk is a subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which has an ownership stake in Blockstream. 

New York Stock Exchange image via photo.ua / Shutterstock

The leader in blockchain news, CoinDesk is an independent media outlet that strives for the highest journalistic standards and abides by a strict set of editorial policies. Have breaking news or a story tip to send to our journalists? Contact us at news@coindesk.com.

Disclaimer: This article should not be taken as, and is not intended to provide, investment advice. Please conduct your own thorough research before investing in any cryptocurrency.

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NYSE Parent Firm And Blockstream Create CoinMarketCap For Wall Street

Intercontinental Exchange (ICE) has partnered with Blockchain tech company Blockstream to bring “disciplined” Bitcoin price information to major Wall Street investors, The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reports.

ICE, the parent firm of the The New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), says it plans to pull data from 15 major exchanges and deliver it to big financial names, including hedge funds and professional trading firms, in a format designed to let them easily take work with up-to-date metrics.

The move is yet another example of Bitcoin steadily coming into focus for traditional investment players, in this case keen to leverage its potential as a tradeable asset.

That ICE settled on the Blockstream deal is in itself a further “sign that the once-fringe market for cryptocurrencies is being taken seriously by Wall Street,” the WSF bullishly suggests.

The tool would likely see its first release in March, providing traditional investors with something tantamount to a Wall Street-tailored version of already existing crypto market monitoring resources, such as the widely-used CoinMarketCap.

CoinMarketCap has come in for criticism in recent weeks after developers excluded major South Korean exchanges from the site’s price calculations on Jan. 8, due to what they described as “extreme divergence.”

The WSJ continues the narrative, suggesting the ICE product will have the benefit of removing industry reliance on resources that have a “homegrown feel.”

The news marks the second significant announcement for Blockstream this week — on Jan. 16, the development business launched a Lightning Network-enabled payments store.

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Blockstream Launches Micropayments Processing System for Bitcoin Apps

Bitcoin startup Blockstream has released a micropayment processing system that it claims makes it simpler to build bitcoin apps on top of its Lightning Network.

Called Lightning Charge, the system complements Blockstream’s existing Lightning Network implementation “c-lightning” and is intended to make life easier for developers creating Lightning-powered payments applications, the firm said.

According to a company blog post,

“Together, these additions make it easy for developers to use c-lightning to create their own, independent web-payment infrastructures.”

Lightning Charge is written in node.js and its features can be accessed using an API via its JavaScript and PHP libraries, both of which are part of Blockstream’s Elements Project.

“Web developers will … get expanded functionality such as currency conversion, invoice metadata, streaming payment updates, and webhooks,” the post states.

To demonstrate its technology, Blockstream has also announced the launch of e-commerce store powered by Lightning Charge, which enables users to make use of Lightning micropayments on the bitcoin mainnet. However, since Lightning is still at the testing stage, the company says use of the store is “at your own risk.”

While still not ready for general use, the Lightning Network is one of the most-watched bitcoin-scaling solutions.

Rather than changing bitcoin’s underlying code, Lightning effectively adds an extra layer to the network by which transactions would theoretically be made more cheaply and more quickly than directly on bitcoin’s blockchain.

Last month, prepaid phone payment provider Bitrefill reportedly used Lightning to top up a cellphone.

Disclosure: CoinDesk is a subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which has an ownership stake in Blockstream.

Lightning image via Shutterstock

The leader in blockchain news, CoinDesk is an independent media outlet that strives for the highest journalistic standards and abides by a strict set of editorial policies. Have breaking news or a story tip to send to our journalists? Contact us at news@coindesk.com.

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Pieter Wuille

This is an entry in CoinDesk’s Most Influential in Blockchain 2017 series.


Pieter Wuille is quick to bite his tongue.

In one of the developer’s first-ever long-form interviews, it’s clear he has plenty of thoughts to share. He gets fired up when chatting about bitcoin’s coming innovations and the cryptocurrency’s original white paper.

“There’s so much we’ve learned since then,” he says, addressing those he feels treat the nine-page document, published in 2008, as a “bible” of sorts.

Over the span of just a few minutes, he lists several holes in the paper – so-called “fraud proofs” have been shown unlikely, or at least very difficult, to work, while it failed to predict key innovations, such as scripts and payment channels.

He’s probably one of the few knowledgeable enough to pick apart bitcoin’s guiding document. And yet, as he starts to speculate on how Satoshi Nakamoto’s paper might look if drafted today, he stops mid-sentence.

“I really shouldn’t speculate,” Wuille says.

And when asked what he would do if Nakamoto appeared before him – after a pause – Wuille says, “I would say, ‘Thank you.'”

In these moments of hesitation, these flashes of deliberation, the shy developer decides it’s better to keep his focus on the facts than let his opinions be used in the political barrage that bitcoin’s raging scaling debate has become.

These moments, they define Pieter Wuille, alongside his six years of servitude, working tirelessly on Bitcoin Core, the currency’s most popular software implementation (as well as the term often used to denote the loose group of volunteers that make changes to this code).

Following Wladimir van der Laan, bitcoin’s lead maintainer, Wuille has made the second-most contributions to the software, but it’s safe to say he’s been behind some of the more significant changes. One particular upgrade, Segregated Witness (SegWit), came to define this year’s scaling debate.

The groundbreaking (and highly controversial) change, enacted in August, shook the bitcoin community this year, where tensions were high and social media was a firestorm of finger-pointing and slander.

You’d think the creator of the code change would get involved and defend its creation, but actually Wuille seemed too cool and collected to stoop to such levels.

According to developer Nicholas Dorier:

“Pieter is trying to put aside all politics and always look only at the technical aspects of things.”

The puzzle

This is likely why you can sense a cringe when he’s asked how much bitcoin he owns, and why he says he couldn’t think of any truly defining stories over his years of working on bitcoin. His personal website is bare, with just a spinning email icon whose pixelated graphics look straight out of the 1990s.

Wuille seems to cherish his privacy.

It makes sense, many bitcoin enthusiasts came to the cryptocurrency that way, but becoming one of the most well-respected developers, that was something that only someone as poised and focused as Wuille could pull off.

But his story begins with another computer scientist and notable cypherpunk, the late Hal Finney, the recipient of bitcoin’s first-ever transaction.

In 2011, Finney – who unlike other jaded cypherpunks at the time was keeping an open mind to bitcoin – submitted a contest (with a 20 bitcoin prize) to a popular bitcoin talk forum. A cryptographic puzzle, it was designed to test developer understanding of the nascent currency.

And Wuille quickly got to work.

This was the first time Wuille, who had a PhD in computer science and a job at Google behind him, looked over the bitcoin codebase. Like many other programmers, Wuille’s interest was piqued on a technical level – initially the code looked like a mishmash, but he marvelled that bitcoin actually worked (after so many failed decentralized money plays).

And in turn, he put together a solution – his first shot at bitcoin development, a moment that would change his life, and the trajectory of bitcoin, forever. Yet, that wasn’t his shining moment.

“I don’t remember who won, but it wasn’t me,” Wuille says.

Still, whereas some might shrug their shoulders and move on, Wuille remained hooked on bitcoin.

He told CoinDesk:

“At the time, when I discovered bitcoin, I didn’t expect it would become my job or that I would spend every moment of my free time on it.”

And he’s used a nearly unbreakable focus to tune out the trash talk and continue lumbering along toward the future where cryptocurrency changes the world.

For him, SegWit was just one small step.

Zen Masters write code

But to get SegWit added to bitcoin was more of an uphill climb.

Introduced in 2015, the code was initially applauded by the community as big step for cryptocurrency, mainly in that it fixed a bug that prevented forward-looking projects from expanding the technology’s capabilities. As a result of the change, ideas such as the Lightning Network and Schnorr signatures are possible to implement.

At the time, Wuille pitched the idea as a compromise that would appease both sides of bitcoin’s scaling debate – one which wanted slow and steady scaling that wouldn’t increase the size of the blockchain, and the other of which wanted more hasty on-chain scaling.

Still, SegWit turned out to be an unexpectedly controversial change.

To oversimplify, developers have generally sided with the “slow and steady” approach to code changes, whereas bitcoin companies and miners tended to want bigger and faster scaling, pointing to long transaction times and increasing transaction fees as deterrents that would keep new users from using the “digital currency.”

As the debate between those two groups heated up, Wuille hardly chimed in on the debate raging around him. Mirroring a Zen Master who’s undergone years of intense study to reach enlightenment, Wuille kept his head down.

And using the mantra “cypherpunks write code,” Wuille endeared himself to the bitcoin community, which has respect for those that code up solutions to problems rather than attempt to achieve change by political or social means.

Bystanders to bitcoin’s fiery debates have argued he’s too “busy writing code” to get involved in all the drama.

Some go as far as to argue he knows bitcoin better than anyone. Dorier, for instance, says Wuille has a “near-complete understanding” of all of bitcoin’s source code. And Bitcoin Core contributor Eric Lombrozo says Wuille “obsesses” over his coding work, albeit in a “peaceful” way.

Heavy heart

Yet, on the phone, Wuille admits he hasn’t been able to tune the debate out entirely.

“It’s been heavy,” Wuille told CoinDesk, sighing. “I’ve been in the middle of it for longer than it’s been public.”

The debate first entered the limelight in early 2015, when former Bitcoin Core maintainer Gavin Andresen published a series of blog posts advocating for an increase to the 1 MB block size parameter, a technical direction that many other developers shunned.

True to his reserved personality, though, Wuille wouldn’t name any names or dive too deep into the details when asked for clarification.

He continues, sounding a little like a forlorn sage, “The whole block size debate started out among developers before certain people brought it to the public. But that was a long time ago.”

And despite having opinions on the matter, in public he stayed composed – wading into the debate only to make short technical corrections.

In one fiery thread, for example, rather than point fingers or namecall, Wuille responded to one technical comment matter of factly: “This is wrong. The signatures are always needed when a node first processes a block, whether that is now or later.”

The teacher

Although, some developers wish he had expressed more of an opinion. Take Lombrozo, one of the group’s more public members, who says he often ponders whether it would be better for Wuille and other shy coders to step up.

“I’d much rather people listened to people like Pieter,” he says.

Social media channels are filled with misinformation and falsehoods, he argues, and developers like Wuille, who deeply understand how bitcoin works, could help to fill the gaps. That said, Lombrozo’s not pushing too hard.

“It’s just not his personality,” he says. “He and developers like Van Der Laan shun the spotlight and the media in some ways. It’s outside their comfort zone.”

In this way, Purse.io founder and CEO Andrew Lee agrees. Even though he’s personally tried to back alternative software efforts, he admires Wuille, calling him more “self-actualized” than the average person, meaning he knows what makes him happy in life – coding – and sticks with that.

Lee told CoinDesk:

“I think it’s awesome that he has stayed out of it. Pieter knows where he wants to have an effect.”

And that seems to be on other developers. Wuille has a history of passing on tips to newer coders, teaching the ways of the open-source bitcoin world.

Lombrozo notes that when he first attempted to get into bitcoin development, Wuille took him under his wing, teaching him about the tools and processes. (Lombrozo and Wuille would later buddy up to work on SegWit together).

And Lee says similar things, pointing to Purse’s Bcoin, a bitcoin code implementation in Javascript, which was one of the first projects to add SegWit support.

“[Integrating SegWit] wouldn’t have been possible without Pieter. He’s super helpful to everyone in the space,” Lee says.

Short-term soothsayer

Beyond all that, Dorier says Wuille has a sixth sense for bitcoin improvements.

“What’s very impressive is that he’s capable of knowing what’s going to happen in the next year and focusing on the work for the shorter-term,” he says.

And if Dorier’s right, signature aggregation, a change championed by Wuille that mashes signature data together allowing more transaction data to fit into each block, could be one of the next bitcoin improvements.

Wuille revealed to CoinDesk that he’s writing a more concrete bitcoin improvement proposal (BIP) for the code change.

And Dorier, who calls the upgrade “the next big step,” guesses the change could be added to bitcoin in the next couple years. But why’s Wuille doing all this? What makes the Zen Master spend all his time grinding away at bitcoin? As other developers and crypto-enthusiasts, he idealizes a future world with a fully functioning bitcoin.

“It might end up changing the world,” Wuille says, adding:

“I think it can show how technology can remove the need for certain third parties and systemic risk that exists in the world.”

But until then, and according to Wuille we’re far from that, he’ll keep tinkering away.

Because he believes, for all the animosity, the scaling debate hit a high point in 2017 because an ecosystem has blossomed around bitcoin, even though at a technical level it’s not quite mature yet.

And that’s the one thing many people fail to understand, he argues.

“Bitcoin’s not ready for mainstream adoption. There are many unsolved problems,” he says, pointing to privacy and scalability, among others.

And he still worries that it could all go down in ruin if there problems aren’t solved.

“We need to get the incentives right so we don’t just replace one banking system with another,” he says.

But through it all, bitcoin’s Zen Master leaves us with patient optimism like any good guru would:

“We’ll get there in time.”


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