The bitcoin community is currently immersed in an experiment called the “lightning torch."
The effort is intended to show the value of bitcoin's lightning network – an up-and-coming technology that is experimental and hard to use so far, but it does offer improvements over today's most common payment systems by allowing users to pass money around the world quickly and without a third party, unlike Mastercard and Paypal.
And participants are out to show this facet of the technology in a kind of global relay race using an ever-increasing amount of BTC.
By way of the social media platform Twitter, people pass the "torch payment" from one person to another, adding 10,000 satoshis (worth about $0.34 at press time) to the payment before sending it further along. Imagine a kind of lightning network-style snowball effect and you get the basic gist of what's happening around the world.
It's been called the "LN Trust Chain" since whoever has the torch is supposed to send it on to someone they trust will send the payment on, rather than keep the payment to themselves.
Indeed, developers might still call lightning "reckless," since it's experimental software and users can lose money if they (or the software) makes a wrong move. There's even a Twitter hashtag dedicated to this fact.
But so far, the experiment seems to be having its intended effect, The "torch" has attracted the participation of 139 people in at least 37 countries, according to the pseudonymous torch ringleader, who goes by the name Hodlonaut.
The list of participants includes some notable names in the bitcoin community, such as advocate and Mastering Bitcoin author Andreas Antonopoulos.
Thus far, other participants include Morgan Creek Digital founder Anthony Pompliano and Lightning Labs engineer Joost Jager.
The torch started on a whim.
"The reason I started this was just to have some fun with the lightning network and maybe spread more awareness. I thought it would maybe do five or six hops and then die, without many people noticing," Hodlonaut told CoinDesk.
Not to mention, it's come to mean a lot to its participants.
“The #LNTrustChain showed the world: 1. Lightning works and it's amazing. All of us who've used it in a solo context (buying stickers, playing games, etc) already knew it, but this experiment was the first widespread public demonstration of its power,” said one user.
Antonopoulos told CoinDesk that the torch represents a way to test and uncover problems with the technology. And it's not quite as easy to participate as it sounds: setting up a lightning node is a hard enough task, but there are other tricky factors as well.
"To be able to 'play', your [lightning network] node must be well connected, with enough capacity and well balanced (local vs remote balance)," he explained. "Since a lot of that is not fully automated yet, it poses a challenge for node operators and an opportunity to test their setup. As the amount gets bigger, it is harder and harder to find routes and keep it going."
In this way, the lightning torch can help to unearth bugs, Antonopoulos added.
As Hodlonaut explained:
To that end, he's been making sure people know who has the torch and cat-herding the community on Twitter.
Escape from extinguishing
"I'll seize it because I can, and no one can stop me. This is bitcoin," edward_btc wrote, his point being that bitcoin is supposed to be "trustless" money.
The community responded with irritation, not wanting the torch to die out.
On a darker level, though, edward_btc went as far as to claim that he received death threats for keeping the torch.
And later on, he claimed that he was actually planning to send the torch on. But before he was given a chance, user Klaus Lovegreen swooped in and started a new torch.
But when will it end? As it stands, there's a hard-coded limit to how large the torch can get: 4,390,000 satoshis, which worth about $150.
Once the torch reaches this threshold, the community plans to donate the proceeds to a charitable cause: likely Bitcoin Venezuela, a non-profit dedicated to raising awareness of cryptocurrency in the troubled South American country.
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