Hackathon winner plans to build a dynamic Bitcoin web

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By Jamie McKane Published: October 27, 2021

A highlight of the recent CoinGeek New York Conference 2021 was the presentations of the three finalists for the 4th BSV Hackathon and the feedback from the panel of judges who determined their final rankings.

Three projects – CATN8, TKS Pnt and Bitcoin Phone – were competing for the biggest share of the Hackathon’s $100,000 prize pool. After a tense deadlock between Bitcoin Phone and TKS Pnt following the judges’ voting, the audience vote carried the day and named Bitcoin Phone as the winner of the 4th BSV Hackathon and the $50,000 first-place prize.

TKS Pnt was awarded second place with a prize of $30,000, while CATN8 took home third and a $20,000 prize for their Hackathon project.

What is Bitcoin Phone

Bitcoin Phone is a project created by Canadian developer Joe Thomas which aims to bring dynamic transactions and real-time network communication to the BSV blockchain. Thomas’s solution is the world’s first voice-over-Bitcoin protocol, which can broadcast voice data over the Bitcoin network by leveraging the non-finality of nSequence to enable close to real-time data streaming.

This essentially allows people to conduct voice calls through the medium of Bitcoin transactions on the BSV blockchain. Thanks to the nature of Bitcoin and payment channels, this communication can also be linked with payments – opening a variety of potential use cases across many industry verticals.

The potential applications of the Bitcoin Phone protocol were fleshed out and explored in Thomas’s presentation to the Hackathon judges at CoinGeek New York. During the presentation, he showed how this protocol and its intrinsic link to Bitcoin payments could revolutionise the tutoring and language services industry by allowing tutors to compete on the price of their services and be paid instantly without navigating the roadblocks present in the current Internet-based platforms that cater to this industry.

Adding an auction system to this type of platform built on the Bitcoin Phone protocol could also allow users to bid against one another for a tutor’s offering, ensuring a competitive price and the satisfaction of all parties involved. This type of system is something that is difficult to implement in current systems due to the high transaction fees of traditional digital payments and the difficulty in integrating a bidding system with these platforms.

With the BSV blockchain and the Bitcoin protocol, however, implementing an auction system within a product running on the Bitcoin Phone protocol is relatively simple, as the real-time communication is already based on Bitcoin transactions recorded in payment channels and written to the BSV blockchain.

Bitcoin Association speaks to Bitcoin Phone creator Joe Thomas to find out more about his experience of the Hackathon and his plans now that he has won the competition.

 

Competing in the Hackathon

nSequence

The 4th BSV Hackathon comprised a six-week coding round, during which participants were tasked with creating an application or service that leveraged the ‘peer-to-peer’ capabilities of the BSV blockchain. Thomas’s solution was unique in that it leveraged the nSequence attribute of Bitcoin transactions to enable dynamic communication – something that fulfilled the requirement of the Hackathon problem in an unexpected way.

Thomas has been involved in the BSV ecosystem for some time – migrating to Bitcoin Cash in 2017 and to BSV in 2018 with the respective splits from the BTC blockchain. He has experimented with several services that interact with the blockchain and avidly researches new ideas for applications that can leverage the power of the BSV protocol.

‘I’ve been in the space for a while – I switched to Bitcoin Cash in 2017 and Bitcoin SV in 2018. I’ve made some small things; early on when BSV split I made a block explorer called SVBlocks, and then later I made a platform called Page Return which let you see content you posted on-chain,’ Thomas says.

His idea for Bitcoin Phone came after much research and investigation into how dynamic communication could be accomplished on the BSV blockchain. He finally settled on using payment channels and a voice encoding protocol to create a proof-of-concept for Bitcoin Phone.

‘I got the idea of payment channels after doing a lot of reading and thinking and contemplating. And one day, everything just clicked with how Bitcoin could absorb the Internet. The idea at first was just so exciting, and then I thought, okay, well voice-over-Bitcoin would be the first step to that,’ he says.

Thomas’s Hackathon submission was a minimum viable product that demonstrated real-time voice communication on the BSV blockchain, using payment channels and on-chain transactions. The protocol wraps voice data in a non-finalised Bitcoin transaction that is then broadcasted to the network. Listeners use a bloom filter set to receive the data, unwrap the transaction and play the audio data directly through their speakers.

Along with the code and explanation of his new protocol, Thomas also submitted a recording of a real-time voice call conducted over the Bitcoin network as well as the transactions written to the BSV blockchain which proved the protocol worked exactly as designed.

Thomas says that working on the Hackathon project while balancing the demands of a full-time job was challenging, crediting those around him for the support he received that helped him to submit a working version of his protocol just in time for the deadline.

‘I’m very thankful and grateful to all the people that helped out with testing, as well as the people that are continuing to work on the project and all the support I got on Twitter, which was very encouraging,’ he says.

 

Building the dynamic Bitcoin web

The Layer Bitcoin Network

Thomas’s Hackathon project submission showcased a viable implementation of a voice-over-Bitcoin protocol and was enough to earn him an opportunity to present his idea as one of three finalists at CoinGeek New York. The potential of the underlying mechanism of Bitcoin Phone, however, stretches beyond simple voice calls and could lead to the Bitcoin network evolving into a new, more efficient version of the Internet itself.

He notes that the most important quality of his project is its implementation of dynamic transactions and real network communication running on the BSV blockchain, as opposed to the ledger’s historically static nature.

‘If you think about Bitcoin before this, most of the interactions are very static – you upload a file onto the chain, you read a file from the chain. What I’m presenting here is making it a dynamic Internet – you can communicate with someone on the network. After I won, I realised there is something here that people really care about and they really see the potential,’ Thomas says.

‘We are building the dynamic Bitcoin web. Up until now, all the transactions were static – you read and you write, but there’s no interactivity, and that’s what we’re adding to Bitcoin.’

When asked about his plans going forward, Thomas acknowledges that work still needs to be done on implementing further functionality and addressing use cases, but he has a clearly defined vision of migrating dynamic Internet communication to the BSV blockchain to improve efficiency and easily integrate payments.

‘The plan in some respect is to continue the development of the payment channel technology. The ultimate long-running goal is to see how much of this peer-to-peer communication that we already do on the Internet can move to Bitcoin. We want to provide payment channel connection services, both for the phone application but potentially others,’ he says.

‘I’m very confident in the technology – it is absolutely there and people can use it.’

 

Potential applications and future functionality

During his CoinGeek New York presentation to the panel of judges, Thomas used the example of the tutoring and language services industry to demonstrate the viability of the Bitcoin Phone protocol and blockchain-based dynamic communication.

The efficiencies offered by the BSV blockchain and its low transaction fees mean it can solve many problems with current online tutoring platforms, specifically those which focus on teaching languages. A solution built on Bitcoin Phone could also offer greater accessibility to tutors living in more remote countries, where they could take advantage of a built-in auction and bidding system to compete with other tutors around the world.

‘People on these platforms are interested in getting their money right away and getting paid as soon as possible. Those are the two things that one can target with Bitcoin because just by the permissionless nature of the Bitcoin network, we’re pushing the price of transactions to as low as possible. Because it is Bitcoin and payment channels, payment is instant,’ Thomas explains.

During his presentation, the judges and audience recognised the significant potential in a protocol that enables dynamic communication on the BSV blockchain, as well as the myriad ways this infrastructure can be leveraged and monetised.

Thomas has recruited a small team to work on his project following his Hackathon victory. They are still considering business cases and exploring potential avenues to market, but he notes that in addition to building platforms on the protocol themselves, they aim to eventually offer protocol integration services to developers who want to build applications on the Bitcoin Phone protocol.

Before any of these can be tested or rolled out, however, additional functionality needs to be implemented on top of the protocol to enable a fully functional and accessible network, which Thomas says is an immediate focus for their development strategy. The first problem to tackle is that of peer discovery – knowing when somebody else is active and able to receive real-time audio broadcast over the BSV network.

‘I think the biggest thing is peer discovery – how do you discover somebody on the network you want to communicate with? In terms of doing that for Bitcoin, we can do it in a decentralised way by having people ping through the network,’ he says.

‘I think that is the next functionality that’s needed when it comes to interacting on the network. Because then you have a way to discover people on the network, you have a way to communicate with people on the network and you have a way to pay people on the network – that’s all you need.’

Thomas adds that they also aim to integrate bidding functionality through an auctioning system built on top of the Bitcoin Phone protocol. This would enable many of the use cases for his technology that he described during his presentation. It would also facilitate the creation of efficient and attractive business use cases for the protocol and the BSV blockchain.

‘We’re going to add auctioning, which is impossible to do efficiently on the current Internet. But bidding in BSV is simple – it’s just data. That’s another thing we aim to provide, because you can’t do that natively with the [Bitcoin Phone] protocol, so that’s a service we will have to provide eventually,’ he says.

After a stunning presentation and victory at CoinGeek New York, Thomas and his team have a lot of work ahead of them. He is confident in his vision of creating a dynamic Bitcoin web, however, and he gives his thanks for the support of his friends, other developers and the BSV community in encouraging him and assisting in the development of his goal.