Runes Protocol Launches on Bitcoin, Sending Fees Soaring as Users Rush to Mint Tokens

Though finding value in meme coins isn't always easy.

AccessTimeIconApr 20, 2024 at 1:35 a.m. UTC
Updated Apr 20, 2024 at 2:06 a.m. UTC

Despite this being the most anticipated Bitcoin halving yet (at least according to Google search history), it was the launch of the high-profile Bitcoin builder Casey Rodamor’s latest creation – Runes – that turned heads, even among long-time blockchain developers who despise the digital tokens that can be minted on the platform.

Rodamor is known for the release of Ordinals, a protocol that allows people to “inscribe” data on the smallest units of bitcoin (i.e. satoshis) to create highly valued assets on Bitcoin. Ordinals is largely credited for inspiring a renewed developer ecosystem on Bitcoin.

Runes is similar to Ordinals, in that it allows people to “etch” and mint tokens on-chain – the main difference is that ordinals are “non-fungible” (i.e. one-of-a-kind) while Runes will function more like meme coins, which have recently taken crypto markets by storm.

The first Runes project to mint was Rodamor’s own UNCOMMON•GOODS project, which was announced well in advance of the halving, as were many of the projects looking to etch themselves on these highly coveted satoshis.

Impossible to know in advance, however, is what other projects would be able to find space on these scarce satoshis. There are already quite literally hundreds of Runes projects that are currently being minted and looking for prospective buyers.

About nine blocks after the halving, Runes minters had already paid 78.6 BTC in fees (~$4.95 million) in order to buy the rarest of the rare. This suggests that, like Ordinals, the Runes protocol could be a boon to Bitcoin’s burgeoning fee economy.

What makes a Runes project potentially viable is something of a subjective measure: being an early project to list — like DOG•GO•TO•THE•MOON, which has the honor of being “Rune Number 3” — is one measure. But buyers are also judging projects based on the “quality” of its ticker.

A number of Runes projects were already starting to mint before the halving happened, including DOG•DOG•DOG•DOG•DOG, MEME•ECONOMICS, SHORT•THE•WORLD and PEPE•WIT•HONKERS, including dozens others, according to

Prior to the halving block being mined, prospective buyers in an X Space hosted by Leonidas, a well-regarded Ordinals collector, users and speculators alike were discussing which Runes to mint and trading ticker names.

Among the names dropped were Taproot Wizards, the Ordinals project co-created by Bitcoin OG influencers Eric Wall and Udi Wertheimer, and a project called Satoshi Nakamoto, named after Bitcoin’s creator, which at press time had over 5,000 holders who minted about 19,000 tokens.

Which projects will actually prove to have long term value is hard to judge.

“Yeah, I don't see any good memes, like, I mean, I'm just trying to figure it out,” one trader said. “To be quite frank, I haven’t minted anything yet.”

“I’m trying to understand the space in general right now,” someone else responded. “These projects are like early Runes. Do you guys think that these are actually going to be the most valuable ones?”

“I think it depends what happens with them,” someone responded.

Another aspect to consider: how many of the tokens were “pre-mined,” or held in reserve for project creators to potentially release on the market later. Prior to the halving, Leonidas shared guidelines that suggested projects that pre-mine more than 10% of the token supply were “greedy.”

“I think the pre-mines are going to be the ones that win,” one trader said. “Because like, it's so hard to come up with a good meme with a 13 character limit,” he said, referring to the hardcoded naming system Rodamor added to Runes to try to prevent “ticker squatters.”

In time, Runes tickers will be able to list with shorter names. Within three years, there could be Runes projects with three-letter tickers, for instance.

Though it’s unclear how well this strategy will play out. According to data source Ordiscan, one forethinking developer has already blocked off a series of tickers, including ZZZZ (which will be the “first four letter Rune” to mint in two years), ZZ and Z (the first two letter and one letter Runes to mint in three years) and A (the last single character Rune to mint in four years).

In other words, with something so new, it’s hard to determine what to value.

“As everybody is scrambling to figure out what the hell's going on, I want to just take a moment to say it's awesome being here with all of you,” Leonidas told his audience. “This is essentially the start of a new protocol that kicked off about 30 minutes ago. So let's see what happens. I think it's going to be very chaotic.”

Edited by Bradley Keoun.


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Daniel Kuhn

Daniel Kuhn is a deputy managing editor for Consensus Magazine. He owns minor amounts of BTC and ETH.