It’s high time to move the discussion on Bitcoin user interfaces and experience over to nodes.
This is an opinion editorial by Ram, a twenty year old student, soldier and storyteller.
Your baby girl is fiddling with her laptop, and she’s yelling, “Wow!” and “Oh!” You wonder what’s going on. Is it a cartoon? Is it anime? Why’s she so excited?
As I, a twenty year old, write this in Singapore, about 15,000 active Bitcoin nodes are estimated to be running all over the world. These nodes store the Bitcoin database in part/in its entirety.
With 15,000 computers storing the same database all over the world, repeatedly transmitting new transactions and new blocks to one another, it’s practically impossible for any one player to pop by and change the record of what happened.
But when talking about Bitcoin’s future as a decentralized currency, Elon Musk said this:
“The reality is, the average person is not going to run a bitcoin node.” — Elon Musk, B World Conference 2021
I agree with Elon. But let me clarify.
Elon was referring to a validating node, which is quite simple to set up.
Mining nodes and validation nodes serve different functions. (TLDR: mining nodes consume electricity to create “blocks” of data, validating nodes check whether the info in those blocks is accurate. Nowadays, mining nodes are called miners, whereas validating nodes are simply called nodes.) Both contribute to decentralization.Setting up a validation node will not burn your house down due to high electricity usage. It’s actually easy and requires zero technical expertise.In fact, it costs just ~10 cents per day from electricity. At the moment, you need less than 7GB of storage space to set up a pruned validation node (in which you hold only part of the Bitcoin transaction database, but still contribute to decentralization).
Unfortunately, the average person is not aware of the above.
Nevertheless, Bitcoin remains the most decentralized cryptocurrency on the planet. 15,000 nodes in the context of a cryptocurrency is great, and proof of Bitcoin’s decentralization was demonstrated during the blocksize wars.
But let’s frame the context differently. Over 5,000,000,000 people have access to the internet today. Suddenly, 15,000 nodes look tiny. A lot more than 15,000 folks probably have computers with 7GB to spare. Many may even have an old laptop sitting in the garage!
For Bitcoin to gain wider and faster adoption moving forward, its decentralization must be continually emphasized. One way to do this is by encouraging regular folks to run Bitcoin validating nodes.
We aren’t talking enough about this today.
Achieving This Via Node UI And UX Improvements
Even in exchanges and payment apps, UI and UX are arguably being sidelined. When it comes to nodes, the UI and UX discussion is practically non-existent.
Remember: the biggest company in the world today got to where it is by relentlessly focusing on UI and UX. That company’s market cap is currently about six times bigger than Bitcoin’s.
Image from Apple, 1998; Sourced from CNET
Bitcoin might not be a company, but the same principle applies. It boils down to making things more intuitive.
When it comes to setting up a validating node, make things simpler. And simpler. And simpler. Installing Bitcoin Core should feel like installing a chrome extension. Or an app from Google Play. And suddenly, we’ll have people realizing: “Hey, this node thingy is actually super simple!”
Let me clarify: setting up a validating node is already simple. But simplicity and perceived simplicity are different things. Today, perceived simplicity requires effortlessness.
Next, let’s talk about how running a validating node should feel.
Take block explorer websites.
Image from blockchain.com
Technically, any of this info can be found on any full validating node. It’s just less intuitive and requires some technical knowledge. The average Joe won’t acquire that knowledge.
So, improve the UI and UX. Superimpose the block explorer websites’ interface on top of the node program. Take it a step further. Let users see how many nodes they’re transmitting data to, how many blocks they’ve helped validate thus far, any temporary chain splits. Simpler. More interactive. And yet effortless. I’m sure there’ll be plenty of ideas on creating a fun UI and UX based on the blockchain.
And UI and UX aren’t just important for increased decentralization. They can change the very manner in which people get into Bitcoin.
For illustration’s sake, here’s what I imagine the typical pathway of someone who gets into Bitcoin:
Hears about cryptocurrencies as a way to make fiat → gets into altcoins → gets into Bitcoin → interested in Bitcoin → goes down the rabbit hole → believes in Bitcoin → sets up a validating node.
This pathway is just one of many. But here’s my point: most of the time, setting up a node happens quite late.
Here’s what an improved and intuitive node UI and UX could change that pathway into:
Hears about cryptocurrencies as a way to make fiat → decides to install a Bitcoin validating node to get a taste of crypto’s value proposition → learns via interacting with the blockchain → maybe even has fun → interested in Bitcoin → believes in Bitcoin → tells more folks to install a validating node → spreads word; process loops.
A validating node is an open invitation from Bitcoin to new folks, that necessitates zero risk-taking. UI and UX improvements will market it as such. They’ll propagate learning via interacting with the Bitcoin network. Education will come straight from the blockchain. Videos and articles, after all, can only do so much!
Here are a couple more UI and UX benefits:
It attracts non-technical folks to Bitcoin. Yes, Bitcoin is the most decentralized cryptocurrency on the planet. But the folks running validating nodes are still a limited set largely drawn from tech and finance communities. Let’s bring over folks from other communities, too. An immediate thought is NFT designers transitioning to working on Bitcoin’s UI and UX.They reduce the inherent risks from centralized block explorer websites.This would publicize Bitcoin, the payments system. You can argue over Bitcoin the currency, but Bitcoin the payments system is incredibly hard to refute, even through the lens of mainstream economics.
At this juncture, it’s worth mentioning that increased decentralization could potentially bring about certain disadvantages, too. Typical democracy problems. Decentralization among technocrats has its pros, too. But that’s another discussion.
The bottom line is: we need to be talking more about this! Much of the world still deeply misunderstands Bitcoin. The fact that the “Bitcoin is bad for the climate” argument has gotten so much traction is painful evidence. And even we Bitcoiners, all at very different depths of the rabbit hole, can benefit from easier interactions with the blockchain.
So talk about this in your Telegrams, Discords and of course, on Twitter. Is it feasible? Does it make sense? Is it a waste of time? Is it being actively worked on?
Let’s return to the story from the start of this piece:
Your baby girl is fiddling with her laptop, and she yells “Wow!” and “Oh!” You walk over and see a new block being added to a chain of blocks preceding it, in real-time. You see one chain becoming two, until the chain on top becomes longer and longer and the chain below vanishes into flames. Your girl claps.
Now that, folks, is a vision worth chasing.
This is a guest post by Ram. Opinions expressed are entirely their own and do not necessarily reflect those of BTC Inc or Bitcoin Magazine.