Bitcoin's Improving Accessibility
The accessibility of new technology to the masses is a slow, gradual process. Establishing a technological foundation upon which to experiment with different user interfaces (UI) and user experiences (UX) comes first and foremost. The evolution of the internet is a prime example of a foundation upon which an explosion of UI and UX innovation occurred and made the entire system accessible to everyone (see: the history of the web browser). One of the great innovations of the 21st century is the release of bitcoin in 2009. A proof-of-work backed decentralized digital store of value that has introduced the world to a whole new world of decentralized finance. As with the internet, how we interact with bitcoin has changed dramatically over the past twelve years.
With bitcoin as a foundation, it is easier to interact and transact with it in addition to building additional functional layers atop it. New solutions are built with the same dedication to improving UI and UX in tandem with the rapid growth and scaling of the bitcoin network. When considering the evolution of bitcoin UI, I believe it is important to evaluate growth through different lenses. How an individual chooses to interact with bitcoin colours the direction of application development. I believe we should view the improvement of bitcoin accessibility through three lenses: privacy, self-sovereignty, and security.
For a publicly auditable blockchain like bitcoin, there is a surprisingly considerable level of privacy and anonymity one can attain. The biggest privacy tool available to anyone working with bitcoin is the widespread promotion and use of the onion router (tor). Connecting through tor means greater levels of encryption and IP obfuscation for users. Making it easier to improve the anonymity of node operators and average users through the ability to enable tor is a simple yet crucial step in improving privacy in bitcoin.
The most interesting development in improving bitcoin anonymity is happening in CoinJoin. CoinJoin is a process through which multiple payments are combined into a single transaction to obfuscate the identities of the sender and receiver. What CoinJoin does for user anonymity is it dramatically improves bitcoin’s fungibility. With widespread adoption of CoinJoin implementation, bitcoin gets closer to attaining the level of fungibility found with physical dollar bills.
The accessibility of CoinJoin tools is improving every year. Not only are there various implementations of CoinJoin tools, you can use these tools with the press of a button. Some of the simpler implementations of CoinJoin that I like are Wasabi Wallet’s CoinJoin and Samurai Wallet’s Whirlpool. Wasabi Wallet is a very intuitive desktop wallet. Within Wasabi Wallet’s interface there is a very clear and simple interface for their CoinJoin implementation with icons and descriptors to guide users through the appropriate use of the tool. Samurai Wallet’s Whirlpool is a great implementation of CoinJoin available on mobile. Similar to Wasabi Wallet, Whirlpool’s interface is clean with great descriptors so anyone using the tool can do so properly and without difficulty.
Another great implementation of CoinJoin is through PayJoin. PayJoin is a special form of CoinJoin between two parties. PayJoin increases fungibility at the transaction level (Person A pays Person B using PayJoin) and as such is the reason it is crucial to increasing the fungibility of bitcoin. That is why it is so great products like BTCPay Server, Blue Wallet, and Wasabi Wallet have PayJoin built-in. BTCPay’s implementation is the most standout to me because of its use by merchants. Providing sellers with the ability to easily enable PayJoin is vital to creating a bitcoin ecosystem built on privacy and anonymity.
When discussing access, I believe there is a distinct difference between simply acquiring bitcoin and supporting the network through involvement, either by mining or running a node. For a vast majority of people, I believe running a full node is the simplest way to contribute to the network as well as ensure one shores up their privacy and security.
One of my favourite things to watch with the growth of bitcoin is how easy it is for the average person to run a full bitcoin node. As someone who is not technically savvy, the idea of running a full node was very intimidating at first. It is true that all you really need to do is download bitcoin core and you’re off to the races. However, for many people like myself who are operating off a laptop with limited storage and battery, a standalone solution is ideal.
Two of my favourite full node products are Umbrel and MyNode. What I like about both projects is that they make it simple to run a node and actively participate in the bitcoin ecosystem. Both MyNode and Umbrel have very intuitive user interfaces and are incredibly easy to set-up. Like most node implementations, MyNode and Umbrel can be run from a RaspberryPi, and as such are accessible to a vast majority of individuals. MyNode even provides a pre-built node that you can purchase for a true plug-and-play solution. The incredible aspect of at-home node solutions is that there are even more solutions than the two I described. There are also projects like Samourai’s Dojo, Raspiblitz, and Nodl which also provide similar solutions to MyNode and Umbrel.
With more individuals actively participating in sustaining the bitcoin network through running a node, we all stand to gain from a healthy and robust network. With innovation driving the development of simpler and smoother node participation, the future of the bitcoin network looks bright.
Bitcoin principles necessarily require self-custody. Keeping bitcoin off a centralized exchange is only one part of the self-custody puzzle. For the average person the idea of “being your own bank” is somewhat daunting. Early on in my own bitcoin journey I found myself very intimidated by the idea of managing a hardware wallet, storing wallet seeds, and avoiding scams. Luckily, the past year has brought a variety of extremely intuitive tools to facilitate the creation of multi-signature wallets. Multi-signature (multi-sig) wallets require more than one key to authorize a bitcoin transaction.
Two platforms that assist in the creation of multi-sig wallets and are very straight-forward to use are Lilywallet and Specter Desktop. Both solutions are non-custodial with clear step-by-step wallet creation guides. The bitcoin-only hardware wallet Coldcard is compatible with both Specter and Lilywallet and together create an incredibly reliable and secure self-custody solution. With simplified multi-sig creation, the average person is empowered to acquire and hold bitcoin safely and with greater self-confidence.
Building for the Future
I believe the future of bitcoin adoption is dependant on the confidence of individuals in their ability to “be their own bank.” With a variety of solutions available to provide greater accessibility to improved privacy and anonymity, self-sovereignty, and security, one can feel assured they are taking a step in the right direction as they explore the beauty and potential of the bitcoin network. As with anything, always do your own research and explore all the other great tools available that are not covered in this piece. The bitcoin ecosystem is growing quickly with new and innovative solutions coming together every day to create a robust and secure experience for everyone.