When Satoshi Nakamoto published the Bitcoin whitepaper fifteen years ago, it’s unlikely that they could have envisioned how dramatically their invention would transform over the subsequent years.
The Bitcoin that we know today is a cultural phenomenon and movement pushing the boundaries of technology and finance. In many ways, it has gone beyond what its creator originally proposed. The trustless, decentralized technologies being built on Bitcoin exceed the simple peer-to-peer transactions championed by Satoshi and have helped the Bitcoin network evolve into an ecosystem rich with innovation.
And yet, it’s clear that Bitcoin’s evolution is still in its early stages. Bitcoin, to this day, is still maturing. The layers and protocols being built on it point to a future where Bitcoin is the bedrock for a decentralized internet and economy.
Just a day after the Bitcoin whitepaper celebrated its 15th anniversary, we asked members of the Bitcoin community what the next fifteen years could look like for Bitcoin. While there are obstacles to be overcome for Bitcoin to achieve its full potential, one thing is clear: the Bitcoin community remains strong and is dedicated to take the world’s oldest blockchain even beyond what Satoshi originally envisioned.
What Brought You to Bitcoin? Discovering the Bitcoin Ethos
“I first got involved in the Bitcoin community around 2011 or 2012, and I was pulled in because I was interested in alternative currencies and alternative financial systems,” said John Light. “I don’t even remember the exact context of the first time I heard [about Bitcoin], but it kept coming up.”
“I eventually looked into it myself and realized that nothing like this had ever existed before. Not only that, [I realized that Bitcoin had true potential to transform] the traditional financial system and fiat currency.”
In recent years, John Light has become well known in the Bitcoin community for his research on incorporating scaling solutions – most notably rollups – on Bitcoin and for his work on projects like Sovryn. But like many in the ecosystem today, he actually got his start with the Bitcoin community in the first few years following Bitcoin’s inception.
For early Bitcoin users, Satoshi’s vision was clear and inviting: a future global economy built on trustless technologies that empowered individuals to have full ownership and decision making power over their assets. Arca’s Head of Research, Katie Talati, explained Bitcoin was effectively responsible for “cracking the code” on how a peer-to-peer system could work without intermediaries.
“Before Bitcoin, systems had been built to send money back and forth, but they had not figured out how to do so in a trusted manner without the double-spend problem,” she said. “By creating a system that included the mining of blocks and block rewards, the system was able to operate without a central authority.”
And it was up to Bitcoin users to make that vision an even bigger real-world reality.
“I started telling my friends about Bitcoin and got them involved by helping them set up their wallets to buy bitcoin and all of that,” said Light. “Eventually, I started a meetup in San Francisco, and it was a place where people could come and learn about Bitcoin and trade it in a safe, friendly setting.”
Of course, Light was one of the earliest people to learn about and inform others about Bitcoin’s true potential. For others, that realization didn’t hit until years later, even if they had heard of Bitcoin before. Gamma marketplace co-founder Nick Sainato, for example, had actually learned about Bitcoin in 2011. However, Sainato didn’t make his first bitcoin purchase until 2014 and even then, he admittedly didn’t grasp the true impact that Bitcoin could have on the world.
That realization would come years later when Sainato became more involved with the Web3 world. At that point, new blockchains like Ethereum had taken off and developers were drawn to their ecosystems because of their ability to facilitate decentralized applications (dApps). This trend certainly contributed to a narrative that had emerged about Bitcoin in the years ensuing its launch: that Bitcoin was mostly to be used as a store of value.
The Bitcoin blockchain, by design, prioritized security and decentralization given its original intended goal of serving as a peer-to-peer digital cash system. But in doing so, it sacrificed scalability, making it difficult for additional use cases to be built on the Bitcoin blockchain. This inherent design actually ended up hurting Bitcoin as it gained in popularity and more people started exploring transactions on the blockchain.
“Because the network has become so successful and grown to such a global reach with high security, it has become very slow,” explained Talati. “The speed at which Bitcoin operates does not make it ideal for P2P payments as originally intended. Therefore, we need to either develop technology that can make it usable for everyday payments, or we need to adapt its use case to something else entirely.”
But clearly, that challenge didn’t stop people like Sainato from dreaming about the flywheel economies that could be built on Bitcoin.
“Around 2021, I became fascinated by the world computer concept in the Ethereum space, and got involved in decentralized identities and NFTs,” said Sainato. “Yet I couldn’t help but feel this technology belonged on Bitcoin.”
“Through an acquaintance, I learned of the Stacks ecosystem and was immediately drawn in,” he added. “It perfectly combined the permanence and decentralization of Bitcoin with the power of Ethereum’s smart contracts.”
Innovating on Bitcoin: The Past 15 Years
Stacks is just one example of a significant development that has gained steam in the Bitcoin ecosystem over the years: the emergence of Bitcoin layers. Bitcoin layers were specifically designed to address Bitcoin’s scalability challenges so that dApps could also take on a life of their own on the world’s oldest blockchain.
And the crypto community has taken notice. The Lightning Network, for example, is a layer that has gained significant traction over time thanks to its ability to facilitate more rapid, efficient transactions on the Bitcoin network. Stacks and Rootstock (RSK), for their part, focus on smart contract functionality to enable the creation of everything from DeFi protocols to Bitcoin NFTs.
But layers are just one piece of the puzzle. If you’ve been following the Bitcoin ecosystem at all this year, you’ll know that 2023 has been a banner year for Bitcoin. The Ordinals protocol has been a significant driver not only for marketplaces like Gamma, which Sainato runs, but also for Bitcoin builder culture. Excitement about the potential of Ordinal inscriptions actually brought many developers from newer blockchains back to Bitcoin, giving them faith that building on Bitcoin was, indeed, viable.
Not only that, but the Ordinals protocol also demonstrated something important: that past innovations on Bitcoin can still be utilized in novel ways to drive the space forward. In employing Bitcoin’s Segregated Witness (SegWit) and Taproot upgrades, it demonstrated how much farther those upgrades could be taken.
The RGB protocol is another example of this. Inspired by colored coins of the past, RGB was another protocol that experienced a banner year with projects like DIBA at the forefront. RGB actually incorporates many developments that have happened on Bitcoin over the years (including Bitcoin layers), a fact that has kept Anastasiia Ilicheva, Head of PR, Marketing and Business Development at DIBA Global excited about what RGB could lend to Bitcoin.
“RGB smart contracts represent an exciting development in the Bitcoin ecosystem for several compelling reasons. Firstly, we are building our products utilizing RGB smart contracts. Secondly, RGB operates on Layer 2 and Layer 3 of the Bitcoin network, reducing congestion on the main blockchain and enabling faster, more scalable transactions,” she explained. “This scalability is critical for the wider adoption of Bitcoin in various industries.”
But Ilicheva also emphasized one very important aspect of RGB: that it harkens back to the very core principles of why Bitcoin was created.
“RGB employs a client-side validated paradigm, enhancing privacy and security by shifting the validation work to the user,” she added. “This minimizes on-chain usage and reduces trackable footprints, aligning with the core principles of Bitcoin.”
Because in the end, every new upgrade, development and project on Bitcoin is built with the Bitcoin ethos in mind. Whether a user is engaging with a Bitcoin NFT and Ordinals marketplace or conducting swaps on a DeFi protocol they are, ultimately, engaging with trustless technologies that allow them to be the sole decision maker about how they're assets are used. In other words, we’re already seeing the manifestation of Bitcoin’s core tenets, and it’s a matter of taking it even further in the years ahead.
The Next 15 Years on Bitcoin
But how can today’s innovations on Bitcoin be taken even further?
As you can imagine, 2023 has left many Bitcoin users excited about the road ahead for the world’s oldest blockchain and builders are already working to push the limits of existing technology. Ultimately, these efforts should lead to mass adoption not just of Bitcoin, but of the Bitcoin ethos as well, which Ilicheva emphasized using DIBA and RGB as an example.
“The potential of witnessing a surge in adoption and the emergence of new players actively engaging and propelling the RGB ecosystem is particularly promising,” she said. “As RGB smart contracts address Bitcoin's scalability concerns without compromising the core principles of decentralization and security, increased understanding and utilization could lead to a transformative shift in how individuals and industries interact within the Bitcoin network.”
The role of Bitcoin wallets
And a big component to how that transformative shift will take place lies with Bitcoin wallets.
When the first Bitcoin wallet was launched, it was meant to help users send and receive BTC with their peers. But over the years, Bitcoin wallets have grown with the ecosystem. Today’s Bitcoin wallet users are able to do much more than send and receive BTC; they now have access to services that allow them to engage with new digital assets and tokens that have emerged in the Bitcoin network.
In many ways, Bitcoin wallets like Leather are at the forefront of every new innovation on the blockchain, leaving them with a front row seat of what is to come. Mark Hendrickson, General Manager of Leather, has emphasized that everything from Ordinals to the upcoming trust-minimized wrapping of BTC on Stacks signals an even brighter future ahead of Bitcoin.
And that future includes giving users even more accessibility to developments on Bitcoin L1 and L2s through a self-custodied wallet where they, alone, have control over their assets.
“I’m looking forward to the day in which Bitcoin users can inscribe data to Bitcoin – whether that be new digital artwork, tokens or other immutable data – and not only be able to store and trade that data on Bitcoin as L1, but also seamlessly bridge it to L2 layers for usage in smart contracts and their associated apps,” he said. “This will allow the same underlying value to circulate across a wide digital economy governed by trustless protocols, enabling BTC as an active asset in people’s everyday lives.”
The institutional question
But generally, wallets also play a key role in another piece of the mass adoption puzzle: the institutional adoption of Bitcoin. While Bitcoin is the world’s oldest cryptocurrency, Eddie Chung, Director of Corporate Development at Kraken, emphasized that Bitcoin’s institutional adoption is still in its early stages, albeit growing rapidly thanks to the involvement of large institutional players like BlackRock and Fidelity.
Additionally, said Chung, many traditional institutions are looking to Bitcoin because of its role in laying the foundations for today’s digital asset economy which, in turn, “[created] a global community of developers and enthusiasts.”
The institutional environment for Bitcoin will be crucial for a number of reasons, and not only because there would be more BTC users. Ultimately, Chung believes that Bitcoin’s institutional adoption will be key in demonstrating the potential for good that crypto and blockchain technology hopes to achieve overall, one that began with Bitcoin’s creation.
“Bitcoin can drive institutional adoption of cryptocurrencies by serving as a gateway asset and a proof-of-concept for blockchain technology, and by demonstrating its potential benefits in other industries outside of the crypto space” he explained.
And here is where builders can play a key role. Much of the current news cycle about Bitcoin has revolved around the impending Bitcoin Spot ETF, with some analysts estimating that $14.4 billion of capital could enter the market as a result. While that would be exciting news on the institutional front, Trust Machines’ Head of Operations and Strategy, Rena Shah, also emphasized that the “true path to unlocking Bitcoin’s potential lies in cultivating tangible use cases and creative applications that showcase its intrinsic value.”
“Ordinals kickstarted real uses of the Bitcoin block space to create a demand market of up to $4.5 billion by 2025,” she said. “In the next 15 years, Bitcoin will go beyond the investment vehicle narrative to a productive asset class.”
And that’s why, according to Shah, the time to build is now.
The Road Ahead: Challenges to Overcome for Bitcoin
But of course, as vibrant as the Bitcoin ecosystem has become, the community will need to band together to address a number of challenges that still lay ahead.
Adam VandenBoogaard, co-Head of Sales at Copper.co, believes the “importance of giving institutional users a simple and secure way to transact in the digital asset space cannot be understated” for the Web3 landscape to grow. Not only that, he stated that there are a number of factors that need to be in place for the institutional adoption of all crypto.
“For institutional adoption to really take off, institutions need the regulatory clarity to know what the rules are so they can follow them, a strong grasp of the types and level of associated risk, and a familiar user experience that is both frictionless and seamless,” he explained.
And it just so happens that the three factors named by VandenBoogaard are the same big three focal points that Bitcoin builders have deemed essential to address for Bitcoin’s mass adoption. The lack of clarity in the policy realm, the need for more education about Bitcoin, crypto and how protocols work and the technological difficulties with Bitcoin are all, in their ways, barriers to carrying out the original vision of a trustless digital economy proposed by Satoshi.
“We need the technology to continue advancing so that we can build more expressive, trustless systems on top of Bitcoin,” said John Light. “Right now, with Bitcoin, we can build a limited number of applications or protocols on top of Bitcoin, but none of them are very expressive without adding in some sort of new trust assumption. You often have to trust some third party to hold your bitcoins while you transact in a more expressive system.”
“Since Bitcoin is built around the idea of cryptographic proof instead of trust, I think it only makes sense that we apply that to Bitcoin’s programming environment,” he added.
Much of this could also come with additional scaling solutions. Bitcoin layers, for instance, are still also very much in their infancy, and that has often still left users and builders struggling to work with the Bitcoin main chain. Ultimately, the current state of Bitcoin’s scaling solutions has also proved to be a challenge when it comes to building additional use cases on the world’s oldest blockchain.
“I think there are some natural progressions from where we are today, and one touted on the daily is scaling Bitcoin to hundreds of millions and billions of users. Many view this as inevitable, but I think that it ’s not, “said Sainato.
“Bitcoin needs a ton more tooling, more builders, and better scaling solutions for this to be possible,” he explained. “There’s simply too much friction to get started and to keep going to attract those levels of engagement and usage. So what I think is more inevitable is the development of one or many types of scaling solutions that seek to solve this problem by others who also see the writing on the wall.”
Another Bright 15 Years For Bitcoin
Fortunately, the Bitcoin ecosystem has already laid the foundation for another bright fifteen years ahead. If the current crypto landscape has taught us anything, it’s that even during the bleakest times, builders will keep on building. That motivation has led to everything from the Ordinals boom to the appearance of new L2s that may have a longer-term impact on the Bitcoin space.
While Bitcoin has only been around for fifteen years, a dedicated ecosystem has emerged to bring about a future where individuals have the sole say over where their money goes. The amount of progress that has already been made on Bitcoin only shows how much more the Bitcoin community can accomplish in the future, including in the wider crypto landscape.
“I believe Bitcoin has already taken a leading role in driving adoption,” Talati stated. “It is the first asset that anyone learns about and it is the easiest asset for anyone to purchase and hold.”
No one can say how today’s scaling solutions, infrastructure work and policy landscape will impact Bitcoin over the next fifteen years. But one thing is for certain: Satoshi’s vision of empowering the individual still resonates to this day, and it is a vision that will only get bigger with time.