Rob Hamilton is a co-founder and the CEO of AnchorWatch. In this interview, we discuss ordinals and ordinal inscriptions: what they are, how they work, what risks and benefits do they present to Bitcoin, how would we mitigate negative impacts, and how the rest of the ecosystem is responding.
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Bitcoin’s use cases grow every year. A new version of money. An international payments rail. A tool to build out stranded energy, mitigate methane emissions and stabilise energy grids. And now, a decentralized immutable repository for images, audio, video and code. Ordinal inscriptions have been popularised as Bitcoin’s answer to NFTs, but that framing significantly underplays the opportunities and threats of this burgeoning functionality.
Ordinal inscriptions have been made possible via a series of Bitcoin upgrades going back to SegWit, and additional software, the Ordinal protocol, developed by Bitcoiner Casey Rodarmor. Rodarmor’s motivation was to make Bitcoin fun. But it has sparked a fierce debate about the nature and purpose of Bitcoin. In short, if Bitcoin is the new version of money, should all other uses that impact this primary use case be excised?
Philosophically, can a decentralized anarchic system without a fixed mission statement have rules of use beyond what is technically possible? Or, does the hard-won trajectory for Bitcoin that emerged from the blocksize wars set a clear enough ideology of what Bitcoin is and isn’t? Whilst technically, what can actually be done to counter the ordinal impact? Will this require another fork, or are there softer mitigations? And what will be the cost to the network of such changes?
The flip side to this debate is the positive impact ordinal inscriptions are having on Bitcoin transactions. Miners are at last seeing a use case that is, at last, bringing value to transaction verification. Whilst it is leading to questions about the blockchain being bloated is this actually a good thing in that it accelerates the market determination of true transaction value on the base layer?
Whatever the outcome will be, such discourse is a natural consequence of having a decentralized network without any rulers. Vigorous and healthy debates have galvanised and strengthened the Bitcoin protocol since its inception. Long may it continue.