Sidechain and second-layer payment network developer Blockstream is putting Lightning Network to the test on its live company store. Those interested can now buy real products using the much-anticipated bitcoin payment layer network, which promises to virtually eliminate high fees and transaction confirmation times. But what are first impressions like?
Also read: Another Red Day for Crypto as Prices Plunge
Lightning Network for Online Retailers and E-commerce
Blockstream tweeted that the store would use its “Lightning Charge” technology and the WooCommerce Lightning Gateway.
Introducing #LightningCharge, a new micropayment processing system that makes it easy to build apps on top of #Lightning. It’s already powering the @Blockstream Store, an e-commerce site we're launching today! https://t.co/Sqmv4d2ze6⚡️#LightningNetwork #Layer2 #micropayments pic.twitter.com/18jZcAXY6o
— Blockstream (@Blockstream) January 17, 2018
At present, the store offers three products: men’s and women’s “Don’t Trust – Verify” t-shirts (Blockstream’s slogan) and some stickers.
Store an Experiment, Not Ready for Mainstream or Newcomers Yet
Those looking to pay with a standard bitcoin wallet may be disappointed, as buyers must create and fund a Lightning payment channel first. Disappointingly, the Blockstream store provides no links or information on how to do this.
how you pay?
— yXaH4uK (@yXaH4uK) January 17, 2018
It also comes with this ominous warning:
“Although the products we are selling here are real, this store is for testing and demonstration purposes only. Lightning is still very new and contains known and unknown bugs. In particular, be warned: YOU MAY LOSE FUNDS!”
Elizabeth Stark, co-founder of Lightning Labs — with Blockstream, one of the three groups working to develop Lightning Network — disapproved of this live testing method. She tweeted that it was a “bad move” by Blockstream:
It's one thing to have people changing code on their own. It's another for a company to be promoting software that is going to lose users money. 🤔
— elizabeth stark 🌋 (@starkness) January 17, 2018
Blockstream CEO Adam Back responded to criticisms by noting the price of a t-shirt is worth the risk, and that self-driving cars are allowed on read roads, despite being arguably more risky:
take note of @rust_twit disclaimer. people run self-driving cars on the road too. dont put your savings on a lightning channel just yet – just enough to buy a few t-shirts and some surplus to do it again later, or experiment with paying other users. https://t.co/MpL979mOCM
— Adam Back (@adam3us) January 17, 2018
The store uses Lightning Charge, which Blockstream designed as a layer written in node.js with simpler functionality for micro/small payments, particularly for online retailers. It accesses “c-lightning“, which is Blockstream’s implementation of Lightning Network.
Lightning Network’s Promises and Limitations
Lightning Network is a transaction “caching layer” for bitcoin, that records transactions off-chain to be settled at a later point. First proposed in 2015, the theory goes that the Bitcoin blockchain is too valuable to be used for small and everyday payments, and should be used in reserve to settle only more significant amounts.
A limited transaction block size of around 1 MB and recent congestion has let to high fees. It can cost hundreds of dollars to send a priority transaction, and with average fees hovering around $20 it’s impossible to send smaller payments. Early claims of Bitcoin’s superiority over money transmitters like Western Union, and demonstration methods to introduce newcomers by sending them a first small BTC payment, have been rendered ineffective.
“Just wait till you see Lightning Network” has become the standard response to those criticisms. However, despite extensive testnet demonstrations, there’s little anyone can do to use Lightning today, and not much non-technical information on how to do it. Hopefully, that will change quickly as the technology is tested, and rolled out, and users educated on how to navigate the new system.
Would you shop at the Blockstream store? Let’s hear your thoughts.
Images via Blockstream