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Let's Talk Lightning Address—Sitting Down with André Neves

17 August 2022

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Let's Talk Lightning Address—Sitting Down with André Neves
How André Got Involved in Lightning / How André Transitioned to Working on Lightning Address / Taking Lightning Further / The Road to Developing Lightning Address Further / Looking to the Future for Lightning / What André Wants People to Understand About Lightning / 

We sat down with André Neves, CTO, and co-founder of ZEBEDEE, to discuss Lightning Address, how it works, and how it's changing how we interact with Bitcoin.

André Neves is a developer, co-founder, and CTO of ZEBEDEE, a gaming fintech and payments-building infrastructure on top of Bitcoin and the Lightning Network. By enabling Lightning-fast microtransactions, ZEBEDEE can offer a whole new gaming experience, where players can earn real bitcoin rewards for their in-game achievements.

We sat with André to learn more about Lightning Address, what inspired him to help develop it, and how it works. In this interview, André discusses how Lightning Address makes Bitcoin significantly easier to use for newcomers to Bitcoin, gaming, and online payments. As we dive in, André discusses what challenges he faced while developing it and what the future holds for Lightning Address.

For a quick briefing, check out our post on Lightning Address here.

How André Got Involved in Lightning

André's journey to Lightning took a predictable path: he first discovered Bitcoin early on, and being from Brazil, he was no stranger to the major issues with the high cost of bank wire transfers and exchanging currency abroad. But, as a developer and entrepreneur at heart, André quickly understood how revolutionary moving money over the Internet could be.

André doubled down on researching and learning about Bitcoin and all of its facets. He quickly discovered that Bitcoin on-chain would not scale to billions of people. But when he came upon the Lightning Network whitepaper in 2016, it became clear that Lightning was the solution to this scalability problem. So after being selected to participate in the first Chaincode Labs Lightning Network residency in 2018, André felt Lightning turn from a protocol into a mission.

"We had a couple of days of learning from the best of the best and from the ones writing the actual software implementations. It kind of went from zero to 60—very quickly," he said.

A product builder and engineer at heart, André was immediately struck by how Lightning presented a unique opportunity to change the world by empowering individuals with sovereignty over their finances. That mindset led him to co-found ZEBEDEE to make Bitcoin accessible to as many people as possible through fun and engaging games.

It's a whole paradigm shift. You can educate the user once they're in, but to get them to step on the other side of the fence? You need familiar interactions, familiar interfaces. It needs to feel fluid.

How André Transitioned to Working on Lightning Address

How André Transitioned to Working on Lightning AddressOn the technical side, André sees Lightning as extremely revolutionary—but on the product side, it needs work. He understood that for Lightning to achieve its true potential, the user experience had to be radically improved.

"We're competing against existing financial products and services that have had decades to optimize their user experience. The competition is with tapping phones at Starbucks POS tablets. The payment takes 100 milliseconds. How can you compete with that when you're telling new users that to use this new money, you have to store 24 words and put them safely under their mattress?" he said.

André said that he knew the Lightning Network had to evolve from a user experience standpoint. While QR codes are great, they're not intuitive for first-time users, and setting up a Lightning node is still too complicated for the average person. And while static QR codes for payments and withdrawals were a step in the right direction (LNURL), André wanted more from Lightning-enabled experiences.

At ZEBEDEE, each gamer has a unique ZBD Gamertag—think of it like any standard social media handle—that users can pay and request payments with. While this payment structure was innovative in the social media world, André realized that it would be even more powerful if there was a way for ZBD gamers to send and receive these payments using a much simpler interface.

The persistent thought on everyone's mind: "We wish we could just send bitcoin to an email address."

After integrating Lightning into ZEBEDEE's gamertag system so players could receive payments, André realized he could do the same more broadly and map QR codes to simple, easy-to-remember Lightning Addresses in the email address format. That's how Lightning Address was born.

From that point on, Lightning Address grew through a joint effort by many in the development community. Working on the specs alongside said developers in the open source world, André built the lightningaddress.com website and has been its biggest public proponent throughout the process.

Taking Lightning Further

Lightning Address maps email-like addresses to Lightning QR codes, making it easy for users to receive Lightning payments without scanning a QR code. So instead of having to give out a long Lightning invoice or post a QR code, users can give out their Lightning Address—like jackson@noah.me.

While the Lightning Network provides a better experience for sending and receiving bitcoin, it's still cumbersome for someone new to the tech. If people are going to use Lightning daily, André said it needs to be even better. And that's his goal with Lightning Address; simplifying user experiences is the key to onboarding users regardless of technological literacy. Everyone needs to be able to user it—and simply, he said.

"It's a whole paradigm shift. You can educate the user once they're in, but to get them to step on the other side of the fence? You need familiar interactions, familiar interfaces. It needs to feel fluid," he said.

Scanning QR codes left and right to receive and send Lightning payments is still too complicated, André said, and it's not how you get billions of people to use the technology.

Everyone knows email address. So we told ourselves— let's do just that.

André said interoperability is key to Lightning's success from the software side. A person can host their Lightning node, but it's not practical nor simple for the average person. Most people will opt for a Lightning wallet connected to a Lightning node or infrastructure run by someone else, like NOAH or ZEBEDEE. And no matter which Lightning node you connect to, you should be able to transact with anyone else with a Lightning Address, he said.

"We made it as open as possible by seeking a way to break barriers between platforms. The money is the same. We speak the same language, so let me reach into your system and transact with your users without issue," he said.

In the same way that Gmail can interact with Yahoo, iCloud, or any other email provider, Lightning Address allows for the same type of interoperability across different providers. He said that formatting Lightning Addresses similar to emails made the most sense. People don't have to know anything about someone to send them Lightning payments. All they need is an email-like address.

The email address format was something André and developers chose very explicitly, as the email address is an actual internet identifier that's both universally understood and universally implemented.

"Everyone knows email address. So we told ourselves— let's do just that," he said.

The Road to Developing Lightning Address Further

A big question André faces with Lightning's email-like formatting is how to use two different systems that both use '@' to send messages. He said it's an understandable question since the '@' has historically been used to send emails.

For those uninitiated to Bitcoin, it can be frightening to think that they might accidentally send funds to an address that isn't meant for Lightning payments. However, André said these concerns aren't grave: emails bounce back if the domain doesn't exist, and like emails, Lightning payments won't go to a recipient if the Lightning Address doesn't exist.

André said these small details would disappear once Lightning Address becomes more mainstream. There are countless easy fixes like approved contact lists and straightforward user-friendly software design to make the Lightning Address experience intuitive. As Lightning Address grows, so will development around it, potentially even from Web 2.0 companies. Since the email address is an already used standard, it will be trivially easy for any company to integrate Lightning Address into their products.

Unsurprisingly, the Bitcoin space already has a massive headstart. Lightning Address development is moving quickly, and the sky is the limit. For example, companies are already working on auto-fx to local currency transactions using Lightning Address. André said that this might be one of Lightning Network's killer features—the ability to move value that instantly converts to local currency. He noted that global instant settlement in any currency on the planet is a very appealing proposition, the effects of which cannot be understated.

The notion that money moves at the speed of the Internet? Anywhere that the Internet can go, money can now go? People don't understand what that means yet. That's really powerful. So I think we're at the very, very, very beginnings of Lightning.

The development doesn't stop there. Lightning Address refunds, automatic dollar-cost averaging, Lightning Network payments on e-commerce sites, Lightning tipping capabilities— the list goes on, and the future is bright.

"The standard is there. It's just up to anyone who starts building on it and starts creating the best services," he said. "It's network effects. If none of your friends are on Twitter, you're not going to use Twitter. So, each user or company that releases support for it makes the network better and stronger for the next user or company. That's how you connect everyone everywhere."

Looking to the Future for Lightning

André said that specific innovations in Bitcoin and Lightning have been priced in, but from a technological standpoint, we haven't even scratched the surface. Likewise, we've only just begun to unlock the full potential of Lightning.

"The notion that money moves at the speed of the Internet? Anywhere that the Internet can go, money can now go? People don't understand what that means yet. That's really powerful. So I think we're at the very, very, very beginnings of Lightning," he said.

Short-term into the future, André said he's excited about logging into websites and platforms with your wallet. Much like "Log in with Google," you'd be able to log in with your wallet—personal or hosted with a company—and instantly move your money across platforms, apps, games, and services. He said that these innovations will completely revolutionize how we interact with the digital economy, significantly altering the notion of what it means to be a global citizen.

I guarantee you no one thought people would be streaming UltraHD video games from Japan to the United States, and that a kid could be playing that game at 60 frames per second. That's not what the Internet was necessarily built for—but that's what it enabled.

In the long term, André sees a future in which Lightning will completely solve major bottlenecks with currency exchanges. He said that Lightning will make it possible to convert bitcoin into any currency instantly. This would tremendously impact global economic inclusion, as people in developing countries would have far more access to the worldwide economy. Not just that, but their native currencies would also become more liquid and useful. Lightning would give more value to local currencies rather than always deferring to major world currencies like the US dollar.

But it's not just these features that excite André. He said that being able to self-host a Lightning Address server from your own sovereign node is also a really vital feat. This allows Lightning users to be their own banks and eliminate the need for Lightning intermediaries. Of course, some companies will continue to do so for others who prefer to use a custodial system. What's important to understand is that it's all open source and fully interoperable. It's unbridled optionality, just how money should be, he said.

What André Wants People to Understand About Lightning

André likened Bitcoin and Lightning's early development stages to the early days of ARPANET, the packet-switching network that much of the roots of the Internet can be traced back to. Like ARPANET, the Lightning Network is being built to solve specific problems, yet it will enable so much more than we can anticipate.

"I guarantee you no one thought people would be streaming Ultra HD video games from Japan to the United States, and that a kid could be playing that game at 60 frames per second. That's not what the Internet was necessarily built for—but that's what it enabled," he said.

We're just at the tip of the iceberg with the Lightning Network. It's not just about payments; it's about things we haven't even dreamed of yet, adding that it's important to remember this when we get bogged down in the details.

At any given moment, it is impossible to forecast what opportunities the future may hold for not only Lightning Network but humanity as a whole. However, the underlying benefit of this technology can eradicate boundaries and obstacles that separate us from one another in both time and space.

André's words inspire a sense of wonder and possibility for the future of Lightning Network and humanity. His vision is one of limitless potential—and it's through technologies like Lightning that we can unlock this potential. We are on the brink of a new era with payments, one where Lightning will create opportunities and possibilities that we haven't even dreamed of yet.

"Lightning will shine online. And we've barely even started," he said.

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