It was a thoroughly enjoyable discussion, and some wonderful questions that required deep understanding and introspection were asked. We decided to put them all together in this blogpost
- So that all this exchange of knowledge does not get lost in the big bad world of the internet, and
- Also for some questions, we slept over them, pondered, pondered some more and refined our thoughts further
Please note: Some questions have been edited for quicker and clearer reading. For [sic] enthusiasts, the as-is AMA is here. 'Q' is questions put to us by the SN community along with their @ account. 'A' are the responses to them by Alby.
3..2..1.. Let's go 🚀🚀
Q: @apelroy - How do you overcome any questions or issues of trust (given the sensitive nature of data that can be seen in a browser extension)?
A: That´s why Alby is a client-side only application. We provide more details about the question of security in our FAQs here: https://guides.getalby.com/overall-guide/. But you are right we have to provide an excellent service and constantly earn the trust of our users.
Q: @dolu - Is it planned to export your connectors as an NPM package? I think it's too bad to see you building one and Zeus too but none of you exports it as a package.
A: We are thinking about that and would love to support this effort as well as standardize APIs for greater interoperability. Happy to talk about that and discuss the requirements on our Telegram or Slack.
Q: @KingZing - Is there a roadmap for what could come next?
A: That`s a good point. Would you like to see a public roadmap? A part of our roadmap is to build out further connectors to other Lightning wallets. We are also thinking about how Alby can provide a convenient way to acquire sats and try out all these different Lightning apps on the web.
Q: @leonardo - Do you think in add more social aspects to Alby? Like, allow users to share the sites they do payments?
A: Yes, that could be an interesting option. If we have confidence that the majority of users appreciate such a feature, we will prioritize it. We have to see how this can be integrated and how this can be easily done optionally to keep the user's privacy. Conducting a user study could be useful.
Q: @moon - Say I donate to someone on a website using Alby. How do they get their sats, do they have to make an account? Does it work with any platform?
A: Alby sends sats to the destination the recipient chooses. And because we build on the Lightning Network the recipient can choose whatever tool/service they want to use. If we talk about sending to a meta tag on a website it can be a Lightning Address no matter from which provider, for they are interoperable. With Alby currently, you always send sats to the destination the recipient chooses. And because we build on the Lightning Network the recipient can choose whatever tool/service they want to use. On websites, the website operator for example defines the destination by adding a Lightning meta tag to the website.
This tells Alby that sats can be sent and where those should be sent to.
Q: @nerd2ninja - What security considerations were made when developing Alby?
A: Security is a super important topic for us. There are various levels of security here. First of all the connection from Alby to a wallet. That's one reason why Alby can connect to different backends. This allows you as a user to choose whatever setup you are happy with. For example, depending on your setup you can connect to LND directly or create a special limited account with something like lndhub or lnbits. (btw. we also push the development of a new lndhub implementation for this) Then there is the connection from the website to Alby. Alby always prompts the user before a website can interact with the wallet. Here we plan to have an extensive permission system with detailed control and transparency for the user.
Q: @apelroy - What have been the biggest challenges building and running Alby as an open source project and company? What have been the biggest benefits?
A: There are a lot of very skilled developers and designers that are helping us to build Alby. Without them, we would not be there, where we are today. We can still get better at coordinating different developer requests and provide more streamlined guidance.
Q: @kr - What do most users use Alby for today? Are there any specific use cases that you’ve heard users talking about over and over again?
A: We actually don´t know in detail because we do not track users. Based on conversations with users we see quite a variety of use cases ranging from tipping on social media platforms like Twitter, YouTube, and individual websites, to accessing Lightning web apps or even developers building and testing their apps.
Q: Makes sense, what is Alby’s north star metric that you track to determine whether or not you’re succeeding as a company?
A: We are certainly still very early as an industry but the number of users is typically a good indicator. These are public anyway on the browser stores.
Q: @TheBTCManual - Can Alby have websites stream sats to users who visit and reshare pages on sites and thus earn sats they can then use to tip?
A: That´s an exciting idea. Creating a closed loop economy can become a game changer because it is so easy to exchange value over the Lightning Network. Actually, a lot of building blocks are already in place. https://webln.twentyuno.net/scroll can be reverted to pay out sats to website visitors for instance. The sats are collected in your wallet that is connected to Alby and can be spent again on another website. The interesting part here is it is an open system and works with any WebLN-enabled wallet.
Q: @apelroy - As someone who invests in different Lightning companies, what does the future and timeline of the Bitcoin/Lightning evolution and adoption look like? And given any numbers or predictions on how this could play out, how do you convince investors to invest in Lightning portfolio companies instead of Bitcoin itself?
A: Given its young state, the Lightning ecosystem has been evolving quickly and that will only accelerate with better tools. Why should we differentiate between Bitcoin and Lightning use cases? They will depend on each other and benefit from their value propositions. Personally, we are just excited about the great number of potential use cases around instant and borderless payments. And of course, that's the good thing about Lightning, companies can provide more value than just saving bitcoin (e.g. instant micropayments, streaming sats, etc.).
Q: @Knowledge4power2freedom - Is and will Alby be free to onboard and use, will it be able to remain as anonymous as possible? Will my web history be tracked and stored along with any KYC info attached to these sites?
A: Alby does not track and store your usage data. We aim at keeping it as anonymous as possible and are confident that it can stay like this if you use Alby with your own private wallet. In the future, there might be a non-custodial wallet service from Alby as well. But there could also be services that ask for personal information due to regulatory requirements. But it is up to the user to decide to use such a service or not.
Q: @And1 - Are there any new features you're looking forward to?
A: We want to bring Lightning to the web. That´s why we keep adding websites where you can use Alby such as Stack Overflow. And that list will increase further. But I am personally also excited about how we can automate payments and make it easier for users to create and manage budgets. That would be another step towards the idea of streaming payments.
Q: @kilianbuhn - Will Lightning one day be synonymous with Bitcoin? Or will we have to say "Bitcoin-Lightning" and confuse normies from now until reality?
A: We see Lightning as an enabler technology for faster and inexpensive transactions. What happens at the interface to the user is up to the apps. We don't think there should be any differentiation and the user should not care much about it. We might want to use synonyms like "savings account" and "spending account". but users should not think about what off-chain and on-chain are or what Lightning is.
Q: @031b519e5d - What are your plans to make Alby (and overall Lightning infra/tool development) sustainable in the long run?
A: That´s true, we don´t print our own money. And yes even an open-source project like Alby needs regular income to be sustainable and provide reliable user support. We have several projects on our roadmap that we plan to launch over the upcoming months. For example, every user should have seamless access to sats on the Lightning Network. That could become a premium service. But we are also looking into opportunities how we can support publishers and app developers to plug into the Lightning Network and enable them to receive sats from their audience.
Q: @k00b - If you could ask all Lightning web apps to do one thing, aside from implementing ln-auth and WebLN, what would it be?
A: ... to strive for interoperability by creating and using open standards.
Q: What are some of the struggles you had connecting to a user's wallet from a browser? What would make that easier?
A: That is still quite a challenge, indeed, especially when your node runs behind Tor. That´s why we created a companion app that you can download and install locally during the onboarding process on Alby. It serves as a Tor proxy for your remote node and makes use of the browser’s native messaging protocol to securely interact with your browser. No additional configuration is required. That solves a lot of problems. On top of that, we are also looking at other technologies like Lightning Node Connect to see how we can integrate that into Alby.
Q: What was the most surprising thing about building Alby?
A: We are super happy that the whole ecosystem welcomed Alby so openly. Users share feedback and ideas on how to improve. The open-source community of developers, designers, and even content creators is growing. This culture is very important to grow as a whole ecosystem and get better over time. Finally, it is always great to see when another app implements WebLN or when a website operator adds a Lightning meta tag to the website to receive sats.
Q: @kilianbuhn - Is Alby a company that can bring people into Bitcoin or just thrive from the preexisting Bitcoin community?
A: That is our goal. We want and need to bring new people into Bitcoin. A good way to introduce people to bitcoin is through 1) education and 2) building more straightforward onboarding tools. The extension is one of these tools and the user experience is crucial. To provide regular educational content we are operating a blog here: https://blog.getalby.com/
Q: That's awesome. Do you have a way to find out / quantify this distinction? Or at least a gut feeling to estimate what percentage of users are new to Bitcoin?
A: Until we have direct and more convenient onramps to bitcoin on the Lightning Network users always have to get on-chain bitcoin first. But this will change within the next months.
Q: @vijo - I've imported my Alby Lightning wallet into BlueWallet. In Alby under "Recent Transactions" I can only see transactions done in Alby, not the ones done with BlueWallet. Is this by design?
A: Yes, this is currently the case in the Alby browser wallet. Alby tries to add as much metadata and context as possible to a transaction. E.g. it stores on which website for what you did the payment. This information is stored only locally and that's why Alby currently only shows payments done from within Alby.
Q: @nobody - Why the "Only connect to a website you trust" warning? Is Alby not trustless? This is confusing and keeps people from linking their nodes IMO.
A: Thanks for this feedback. If you "connect to a website" you allow this particular website to perform certain actions such as requesting an invoice to make payouts to your wallet. As phishing is a problem on the internet Alby protects the user and double-checks before using a website for the first time. So Alby basically acts as an agent on your behalf.
Q: @Lux - When on mobile?
A: ... once we have conquered the web with bitcoin. There are great Lightning apps out there. But going mobile is exciting, indeed. If we think we can create value, we are in. After all our goal is to allow web developers to build great Lightning-enabled web apps and to greatly improve the UX when interacting with Lightning on the web. There is a lot of brainstorming going on about how this can look on mobile (e.g. connecting your one Lightning wallet to various mobile apps - instead of having different wallet accounts in the various apps). But we don't know yet for sure how this will work or how it will look.