I first heard about the Alby browser extension when I volunteered at the Bitcoin Conference 2022 in Miami. Rather than taking part with even a few hundred USD worth of my stack of sats, I showed up at the venue at the crack of dawn and got my lime green volunteer's t-shirt and wristband. Then they put us to work keeping the people who had paid extra to get in early that they couldn't do so because the 3rd-party security company hadn't shown up on time. The security concerns of the event, the venue's compliance requirements, and the legal liabilities prevented anyone from getting through without authorized representatives manning the metal detectors.
After holding back the crowds, redirecting those cutting in line, and keeping the rideshare drop-offs moving along I wasn't assigned either a team lead or a specific location. So being a true Bitcoiner, I asked no one for permission and pulled up a chair for myself next to the door in the auditorium for the Pitch Day presentations. Eventually, a team lead showed up and thanked me for being there, giving me a good chuckle.
All this led me to find out about multiple Bitcoin Lightning projects that I'd never heard of, all of which got me excited for the latest evolution of this technology. Turns out that of the 7 projects that got to pitch in 3 different categories, Austin teams sent 4 of the 21 entries, taking home 1st in one category and 2nd in another. Out of the 21 projects, there were 4 that provided solutions to important problems we all, as bitcoiners, face. I was very grateful to find out about them, and am even more impressed now that I've begun using some of them.
The major pain points of Bitcoin today
The 4 pain points I'd been experiencing and waiting for Bitcoin to solve are common ones:
- How do I create a reusable payment address without sacrificing privacy?
- How do I make this payment address human-readable and easily remembered?
- How do I avoid having to create new email addresses/usernames/passwords for all the websites I interact with?
- How do I spend my Lightning BTC online without having to use my phone?
AMAZINGLY! All of these problems are now avoidable right now with Alby.
Those initial user interfacing headaches we all previously faced when interacting in the Bitcoin ecosystem no longer restrict our ease of using BTC when attempting to live natively on a Bitcoin Standard. That is, IF we know what tools exist, how to use them, and when/where to use them...
That's why I'm writing this article, as an attempt to help increase understanding of how Bitcoin’s ecosystem is rapidly evolving.
How Alby solves these paint points
Here's a breakdown of each of these four problems and these new exciting solutions for solving them.
- How can I decrease the data exposed when giving out a reusable receiving address in a public forum, for instance on a menu of goods/services offered?
ANS: Lightning Addresses, based on the LNURL protocol allow for the creation of a reusable and privacy-optimized address if the connected wallet runs directly on my private node. Many ways of implementing this Lightning Bitcoin feature are now becoming available, with Alby providing one of the simplest, easiest to use, turn-key solutions for adding this feature to Bitcoin operations. While receiving BTC using the Lightning Network protocol to my node is not completely private, sending Satoshis over the Lightning Network is far more private than on-chain bitcoin as chain analysis is not applicable when operating natively off-chain. Using a Lightning Address, as provided by Alby, the transaction data is not recorded on the public Bitcoin blockchain.
- How can I create a human-readable, memorable and reusable BTC address?
ANS: Again, Lightning Addresses solve this too. They can be set up with any self-hosted Lightning address server, with only a purchase of a domain name, for whatever name chosen. Or, for ease of use, convenience, and simplicity, using one like I’ve created for myself as Ov1@getalby.com
- How can I create a single-sign-on solution that doesn’t require emails/usernames/passwords to login?
ANS: LNURL-auth as an authentication protocol based on Lightning technology allows applications to use the security and encryption of Lightning wallets, to “sign on” to any website accounts integrated with this open protocol. As most of these accounts will be accessed through browsers, using a Lightning browser “wallet” solution like Alby will make sense for many users of the Lightning Network
Bringing up the answer to the next pain point Lightning users previously had to deal with…
- How do I spend my Lightning BTC natively online, rather than with a mobile device?
ANS: Browser extensions enable single-click payments, pay-as-consumed content, and paid upvoting features to online engagement. Alby´s browser extension strives to make paywalled URLs, Value for Value integration, and merit-based reward systems possible and interoperable all based on bitcoin, a global payment network.
Using Alby on a Hackathon
Having heard about these features Alby was making available to even non-technical users like myself months before, it wasn’t until I participated in the recent Bolt Fun Lightning Hackathon that I finally installed and tested it out for myself.
The hackathon was set up so that submissions had to be made on their blog website that required the use of Alby for account creation and sign-on. It took only a few minutes to do so, I’ve learned to use a master password manager that automates securely creating new usernames/passwords, but this too creates another data honeypot. I’m more inclined to trust the encryption and data security of my current Voltage node, than that of a 3rd party password manager. Of course, moving up the security scale by running my own self-hosted node will be a natural progression over time. But even a relative novice non-techie like myself managed to connect my Voltage node to my Alby browser extension.
A week after the hackathon ended, applications for a Bitcoin grant became available with Geyser Grants. So I submitted my hackathon entry to that as well, and soon thereafter, Geyser Tweeted out the link to my hackathon blog post on the Bolt Fun website. Within the next 24 hrs, over 600 bitcoiners had read the blog post, upvoted my article, and had their Alby extension pay my Alby wallet $6.00 worth of bitcoin over the Lightning Network.
More possibilities for consumers, creators and developers
I’m expecting the smartest creators in the realm will begin making use of these tools. The sooner the better, for us all. Improving the decentralized user experience is no small task, Alby has managed to help us all take a big step in the right direction. No doubt they’re part of the first wave of solutions about to break on the marketplace with the impact of a tidal wave.
By integrating WebLN and LNURL protocols to allow for natively operating online within the Lightning Bitcoin ecosystem, Alby is demonstrating that Bitcoin is evolving to solve the pain points hindering mainstream user adoption of it as payment technology. By adding Lightning Addresses that are reusable and human-readable, while minimizing the financial data exposed when doing so, businesses can become more comfortable accepting Lightning BTC payments for their goods and services. By also integrating Lightning-based authentication into a browser app, creating a single-sign-on solution piggy-backing on our Lightning wallet’s security, it provides a rare combination of increased security while adding increased convenience. Alby adds native single-click payments and secure but passwordless authentification to the ever-growing list of upgrades brought by Bitcoin´s Lightning Network.
This article was written by Michael L. Ovsen Jr.
All donations go directly to his Lightning wallet.
Alby welcomes individual bloggers and hosts guest articles. If you also want to share your experience with Alby let us know.