A Real-Time Battle Over Trashy Art Is Becoming a Big Deal for Bitcoin

A bird? A plane? No, that’s just a giant penis spouting flaming bitcoin.

Such is the canvas at Satoshi’s Place, a web app that allows savvy users to create digital pictures by sending small amounts of bitcoin. In the weeks since its release, the graffiti tool has become the site of territorial battles of pixel-space, with tribes of every description, from national flags, to cryptocurrency insignias, to companies, all competing for a patch of digital property.

Created by a developer who goes by the handle “Lightning K0ala,” the project is inspired by Reddit’s massive multiplayer art experiment, “Place,” a three-day effort in collaborative drawing that garnered hype in 2017 (called, among similar sentiments, “the iconic picture of our time” by Paste Magazine).

But while participants on Reddit’s r/place had a time constraint – users had to wait between five and 20 minutes before submitting a new pixel to the board – at Satoshi’s Place, the limit is only how much bitcoin users are willing to fork over.

A pixel on Satoshi’s Place is priced at one satoshi, or 0.00000001 bitcoin. And for 0.01 bitcoin, around $65 at current prices, users can take over the entire board, all by using anewly live payments technology for bitcoin called the lightning network.

According to data provided by the app’s creators, there’s been nearly 3,000 paid invoices running across the lightning network, for more than 8 million painted pixels, garnering the attention of about 10,000 unique daily visitors to the site.

“Satoshi’s Place has been the first app that has gained wider attention from the community,” said Elizabeth Stark, the CEO of Lightning Labs, a startup building a user implementation of lightning.

And as users compete for art real estate with their wallets, according to advocates, the quickly shifting cultural depiction of cryptocurrency enthusiasts demonstrates not only how Lightning can free the bitcoin blockchain from its scalability constraints, but also how technologies like these could eventually outpace traditional financial systems.

As such, even with many laughing at the 13 penises that adorned the website on Monday, Satoshi’s Place isn’t all crypto memes and minds in the gutter.

“It shows that bitcoin is, in fact, scaling and increasing the use cases the network can support,” Casa engineer Jameson Lopp told CoinDesk, adding:

“It proves the power of microtransactions – it’s not possible to use traditional financial networks to create pay-per-use systems like this that are metered at the sub-penny level.”

And echoing something similar, litecoin creator Charlie Lee took to Twitter to call Satoshi’s Place lightning’s “first killer app.”

Serious fun

Sure enough, many believe the artboard touches on something very important.

Citing the use of microtransactions within the game (one satoshi is worth a fraction of a fraction of a cent), Jeff Gallas, an early participant of the artboard and founder of lightning startup Fulmo, emphasized how such an application is currently unique to the lightning network.

Indeed, the popularity of the artboard brings to mind other successes in blockchain-gaming history, such as SatoshiDice or ethereum‘s Cryptokitties, but with one important exception.

As bitcoin developer David A. Harding pointed out, while both of these examples led to near-crippling blockchain congestion, Satoshi’s Place has been imperceptible on the bitcoin blockchain itself.

“Since [the game] has become popular, I haven’t observed any meaningful change in the volume of bitcoin transactions,” Harding said. “This suggests that lightning network payment channels are working as their advocates expected in increasing the capacity for small and casual bitcoin payments.”

In other words, due to the nature of lightning, whereby payments are pushed off the blockchain into payment channels that don’t require miners validating transactions, the large number of transactions from Satoshi’s Place doesn’t encumber the blockchain in any way…

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