At the most recent Bitcoin++ developer conference in Austin, TX, Bitcoin Magazine’s Alex B. sat down with Michael from Boltz and Tiero from Ark Labs to discuss the latest developments in Bitcoin’s technology ecosystem, particularly focusing on Lightning Network, Liquid, and emerging technologies like Ark.

The Journey and Challenges of Lightning

Reflecting on the journey of the Lightning Network, Michael shared insights on the challenges faced, especially in high-fee environments. „The biggest blind spot that was glaringly obvious recently was like in a high fee environment, Lightning tends to hurt a lot,“ he said. He elaborated on the difficulties posed by fee spikes and the need for better preparation and solutions, such as moving operations to different chains via submarine swaps.

Tiero highlighted the underestimated challenge presented by Lightning’s infrastructure. He pointed out the need for innovative designs that use Lightning to connect various layers, including Fedimint, Liquid, and Ark, to enhance the user experience. „Lightning will always be the way to connect all these new ideas,“ Tiero said.

Liquid’s contested role

Despite its relatively modest adoption compared to other technologies, both Michael and Tiero acknowledged that Liquid has proven to be a stable and reliable platform. „Liquid has been around the block. It’s known and it survived. It’s still around today,“ Michael stated, pointing out the platform’s resilience and reliability over time. This stability is crucial for developers looking to build and experiment with new solutions without the risk of frequent disruptions.

Tiero from Ark Labs expanded on the advantages of sidechains like Liquid, highlighting their ability to reduce congestion on the Bitcoin main chain. „Having a side chain with clear trade-offs can alleviate pressure on the main chain,“ he said, emphasizing that Liquid’s architecture offers distinct benefits, including lower transaction fees and faster processing times. This can be particularly beneficial in high-fee environments, where moving operations off the main chain can result in significant cost savings.

Michael also addressed the competitive landscape of new blockchain proposals, asserting that Liquid’s established track record offers a level of trust and predictability that newer solutions may lack. „In the grand scheme of things of the new proposals coming up, I think Liquid is here to stay for at least quite a while.“

Emerging standards & interoperability

Discussing the fragmentation within the ecosystem, Michael from Boltz outlined the critical role his company could play in providing liquidity across different chains and services. This ability to facilitate swaps between various Bitcoin layers, such as Lightning, the main chain, and Liquid, is crucial for maintaining a fluid and interconnected ecosystem. By offering these services, Boltz helps bridge the gaps between different platforms, making it easier for users to move assets seamlessly.

Michael also stressed the importance of maximizing competition among service providers to ensure users receive the best market rates. „In the end, an open spec would make sense, but we are so early in this process,“ he remarked, highlighting the necessity of experimentation before moving towards standardization. This experimentation phase allows for the identification of best practices, which can then inform the development of standardized protocols.

Tiero from Ark Labs echoed Michael’s sentiments, adding that the diversity of user needs makes it challenging to establish universal standards at this stage. „Every business has its own user and sensibility to their user.“ He suggested that a larger, more diverse ecosystem would justify efforts toward standardization, but until then, businesses need the flexibility to innovate and respond to their specific user bases.

Both agreed that the current priority is to allow companies to experiment and innovate freely. „We can move so much faster if we can just try out things ourselves and see where it goes,“ Michael said. This approach enables rapid iteration and adaptation, fostering a more robust and resilient ecosystem in the long run.

Innovating with ARK

Tiero from Ark Labs provided an exciting glimpse into their latest project, Ark. „ARK is still in a post-idea stage.“ The focus, he explained, is on creating a protocol that integrates seamlessly with existing technologies like Lightning, ensuring that it can effectively serve the needs of its users.

„We managed to show that it is doable, is working. And the thing I think the next step will really be trying to understand what are the real use cases for which demand is huge,“ Tiero noted. By focusing on practical applications and real user needs, ARK aims to create a robust, user-friendly protocol that addresses the current limitations in the ecosystem.

Experimentation is a key part of ARK’s development strategy. Tiero emphasized the importance of testing in flexible environments like Liquid before finalizing detailed specifications. „Let’s just go where it’s super flexible and Liquid has introspectional code at the maximum level so you can really do recursive covenants,“ he explained. This approach allows the team to explore the full potential of the protocol and make necessary adjustments based on real-world applications and feedback.

Michael noted the uncertainties surrounding ARK’s future use cases and liquidity requirements. „It’s also like unknown unknowns again. In theory, it’s interesting for service providers who have liquidity anyways,“ he said, emphasizing the need for further exploration and development.

Optimism for Bitcoin’s Future

Concluding the discussion, both Tiero and Michael expressed a strong sense of optimism about the future of Bitcoin layers and covenant technology. Tiero, in particular, was bullish about the advances being made in covenant technology, viewing it as a transformative force for enhancing protocols like ARK and Lightning. „I’m super, super bullish after these two days because for the first time all the people working with Covenant in production or in general, they’re really, really very knowledgeable about the topic.” He celebrated the opportunity of having experts gather to discuss and refine these ideas in a collaborative environment conducive to groundbreaking innovation.

They also praised specific proposals, such as Rusty Russell’s restoration project, which aims to methodically enhance Bitcoin’s script capabilities. „Rusty’s model gives us actually something to talk about, a frame of reference for what these covenants mean from a computational perspective and like you can actually like I said restore Bitcoin script to its former glory in a safe and sensible manner,” said Michael. 

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