Bitcoin Lightning Network is a Dead End


As we head into March 2019 we are seeing more and more publicity about the Lightning Network which is hoped to finally bring Bitcoin a real world use case. I don’t think we need to get into the controversial layer 2 off-chain and centralised nature of the Lightning Network as this has been documented many times in the past. Nor do we need to mention the current 90% plus failure rate of the technology as this has also been tested and reported on multiple times. What we did recently stumble upon was an in depth Twitter analysis from a small business owner Jason Smith who attempted to use the Lightning Network for some of the company payments.

“Here’s my honest feedback on the lightning network and Bitcoin: I run a media company. It’s based in Australia. I employ some people in the Philippines to help with back end stuff and some grunt work. I want to pay them with Bitcoin. But there’s a problem: The fees just get too high.

I had to completely write off the idea of paying my staff with Bitcoin during Dec 17 / Jan 18 when it was costing absurd amounts to get transactions confirmed in a reasonable time.

What concerned me the most was when I weighed into the block size debate and argued for higher blocks, I was told that I was doing it wrong or something, and just to wait. Well, I wanted to use Bitcoin now. But I trusted and waited. Eventually my patience was rewarded.

One day Lightning was ready to use. I tried a custodial app which was easy to use, and also spun up my own node using Pierre Rochard’s node launcher. I was sold pretty quickly. I could easily send and receive small payments online. I bought some stickers. And I was relieved that this wasn’t vapourware and Bitcoin had something of a chance at scaling.

But then…I started to hit some snags. I won money on online betting sites, but couldn’t withdraw the money because I needed incoming channels connecting to my node with money on the other side of the equation.

I was like “what the fuck?”

I eventually managed to find a service that would open up channels back to me, (for a fee), and was able to receive money again. Then I started trying to close some channels to get money back out of lightning. God what a hassle.

Now I’m told some of the lightning problems will be solved with certain developments. But I assure you, the fundamental structure of lightning doesn’t suit me at all for my business. I want to pay my staff each month.

Businesses can’t leave money tied up in Lightning channels.

Cash flow issues in actual businesses won’t allow that kind of behaviour. So I’d have to create a new lightning channel every month to pay my staff anyway, so I’d be doing onchain tx anyway.

But the staff don’t get paid enough to warrant $100 fees for each channel.

Plus what are they doing to do once I’ve paid them via LN? There’s no way I can expect them to run their own nodes.

I honestly have no more love for lightning at all. I don’t see it solving problems of scaling in a way that businesses or consumers actually function. In my frustration I’ve gone back through a lot of the scaling debates and high fee discussions. I can confirm that there’s been a lot of “these high fees are great” posts from pro lighting folk, and even “bitcoin isn’t for poor people” stuff.

Frankly, I cannot see any logic to the argument that we need to keep nodes small so poor people can have them, when the fees to actually use the Bitcoin network price even the middle class out of using it. It’s nonsense.

I’m not interested in waiting another 5 years before I can actually use Bitcoin in my company, I don’t want custodial lightning, and I know that once there’s another bull market, arbitrage opportunities are going to be prolific and demand on blockchain space will be high.

I hope I’m wrong about Lightning, and there’s going to be a magical fix that will allow sending and receiving infinite amounts non custodially without needing to trust third parties, in a user friendly manner. But I can’t see it. I gave it an honest shot, but it was such a hassle.

Even if someone was happy to do all the channel openings and crap, it’s years away from reaching a user-friendly state. I can’t ask local merchants to go and buy server hardware to be able to accept this shit. It needs to run on an iPad. Only a custodial solution would work.

So there’s one of two things that will happen. Everyone goes custodial, or we get bigger blocks. If we go custodial, game’s fucked. If we get big blocks, we can actually use this thing.

I also run Bitcoin training seminars about Bitcoin. I won’t be running any more until I can actually see where this thing is heading. This high fee bullshit makes the network unusable for normal people, and lighting is not easy to use, which any scaling solution needs to be. I’m strongly starting to think Daniel Krawisz was right, I’ve been listening to an echo chamber of people who have never run a business before, and I hope Daniel can answer more questions I have about his opinions of Bitcoin. I realise on chain tx fees are low right now. My concerns lay with plans to ensure they are high again, and my inability to rely on Bitcoin in the future.”

The full tweet thread can be found here.

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