Nathan and Secondl1ght of the BTCMap FOSS project join me to chat about tagging local bitcoin merchants and how you can get involved.
- FOSS and data
- Past attempts at tagging
- Open systems and walled gardens
- BTCMap project and how you can contribute
- Tagging locations
- Site: BTCMap.org
- Twitter: @BTCMapDotOrg
- Github: https://github.com/teambtcmap
- Nathan: @nathan_day
- Secondl1ght twitter: @secondl1ght
- Secondlight site: secondl1ght.site
Stephan Livera links:
Stephan Livera – 00:00:08:
Hi. You’re listening to Stephan Livera podcast, a show about bitcoin and Austrian economics brought to you by Swan Bitcoin. This show is about btcmap.org, and Nathan and Secondl1ght developers and people contributing on this project. It’s a foss project. They join me and we chat about tagging local bitcoin merchants, and we also talk about how you can get involved. So for those of you who want to help out, and maybe you’re not specifically a developer, but you’re looking for some way to contribute, this might be something that you can help out with.
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Nathan – 00:03:07:
Hey, Stephan, good to be here.
Secondl1ght – 00:03:09:
Hey, thanks for having me.
Stephan Livera – 00:03:11:
So Nathan and Secondl1ght , I know you guys are working on this project, BTC Maps. I was really keen to chat about this. I came across it and I saw you guys have been having a bit of fun with this project recently. But yeah, I’m going to presume. Most of the listeners don’t know you guys, so just give us a little bit of a background on yourselves. Nathan, do you want to start?
Nathan – 00:03:29:
Yeah, for sure. So I’m relatively new to Bitcoin, actually. So as everyone did once upon a time, looks at it, didn’t put the time in, moved away onto other things. But about a year ago, I really fell down the rabbit hole pretty quickly from not really knowing too much about bitcoin to running a full node within three weeks or something. So it was a pretty painful descent. And then, yeah, I guess the genesis story then of how did BTC Maps come about was basically through my own need and other people’s, because people are looking around for places to spend their sats up until BTCMap.org there wasn’t really a place you could do that in a single place. But we’ll get into that. Secondl1ght , do you want to introduce yourself?
Secondl1ght – 00:04:23:
Yeah. So I went down the Bitcoin rabbit hole in summer of 2020, and after a few months of sort of learning about it, feeling that I had a decent understanding, I wanted to get as involved as I could. And so in the summer of 2021, I started teaching myself how to code. Six months after that, I quit my fiat job to work on bitcoin development full time. And yes, it’s been about ten months now and I’ve had the opportunity to work on some super cool open source projects. So it’s been pretty amazing cool.
Stephan Livera – 00:04:59:
And Secondl1ght , just while we’re here, do you want to just spell out some of those projects you’ve been contributing with?
Secondl1ght – 00:05:05:
Yeah, so some of the ones that I’ve worked on over the past ten or so months are CoinOS, which is a web wallet. It’s actually been around since 2012, run by a guy named a Salty’s Online, Adam Sulte’s. Really great guy, and he’s actually been mentoring me as well, so I’m super grateful for that. I also had the chance to work on Alby, the Lightning browser extension, a bunch of great people over there as well. Geyser, which is Bitcoin crowdfunding, and I did a few smaller contributions for Jam, which is the joint market web UI. And, yeah, the latest one is BTC Map.
Stephan Livera – 00:05:48:
Fantastic. Yeah, and that’s funny because I did a recent episode with the Alby guys and I met some of the Geyser guys, the guys over at Baltic Honey Badger. So it’s kind of like, interesting. I’ve seen your name come up a few times across some of these different projects. But we’re here to talk about BTC Map today because this is one of those things where I know there have been historical attempts at this. But Nathan, do you want to just touch on that, whether you were doing some research into this and that forms part of the genesis of this project.
Nathan – 00:06:18:
Yeah. So is that going back to Baltic Honey Badger? So that was my first real Bitcoin conference. So I was there. I saw you guys Stephan, I saw you walking around at certain points. But really, that was where the spark came for BTC Maps because I was figuring out where to go spend sats whilst in Riga. And guess what? There’s nothing available. And so the problem has been is that you kind of have this balcanization of Google Maps that people throw up on their websites, whether it’s a local meetup or whether it’s some sort of merchant map. So CoinCorner, for example, have their own map and IBEX Mercado have their own map, and it tends to be all Google Maps driven, which is limited for a whole bunch of reasons. So, yeah, I started looking around and I couldn’t find anything. And then I managed in FDroid store. There was an app in there called BTC Map. So I downloaded it and there was a lot of points around the world. So I just, like, digging into what this data source was for BTC Map within the FDroid store, and I managed to track down the guy who wrote it. So it’s a guy called Iger who’s part of the core BTC Map team now, who created this app back in May of this year, I think it was. There’s some history before then where Igor recreate the map. A few years back, some issues with Google Play didn’t quite, you know, get any traction. And so, yeah, I contacted Igor, and at this point, there was no website. There was literally a white page on that domain. And of course, there was no Lightning as well, because the data set that Btcmap.org uses is the OpenStreetMap data set, and we can get into that in a bit more detail. So, yeah, I was literally sat at the front of the conference hall, Honey Badger, and I’ve got a very minimal coding background, but I managed to hack together a HTML page in Notepad and we threw up the world’s worst looking web page just to get something there. And that’s when I created the Twitter handle and then reached out to people to see who wanted to contribute to what would be a web app, iOS app, and a revised Android app, which is where we are now. I mean, that was only four weeks ago, five weeks ago or something, and that’s where Secondlight reached out. So I don’t know how you saw the tweet, but we started getting a little bit of traction and then I just got a DM from Secondl1ght and he’s like, where’s the repo? Let’s get going.
Stephan Livera – 00:09:08:
Excellent. So let’s get into that question around data. And I’m sure people are thinking, oh, well, historically there was Google Maps based things, or maybe people had their own little World Garden version. Why the focus on OpenStreet maps?
Nathan – 00:09:30:
So some of my background so the prebitcoin days was around open data. So I worked a lot with the UK government to get effectively data that citizen data that citizens should own opened up because it’s effectively part of the commons. So I’ve got an open data lens on it. And I think people often talk about free and open software so FOSS, but don’t really think about the data side of it as well as the software side of it. And so I was very familiar with OpenStreet Maps and like I said, a lot of UK government data was released in various data sets, including mapping information. So when I found the app that had been created by Igor, I was then super keen to learn that the data that drives the apps or where are the locations, was using Open Street Maps as a database. So for those people listening that don’t know what Open Street Maps is, it basically Wikipedia for maps. So it enables anybody to create assets and base maps in a Wiki format. So I don’t know, if there’s a new bus stop that comes at the bottom of your street, you can go right ahead and edit the map and input that in and there’s a change set associated with that. So you can look at the history of how your local area has progressed, just like you can look at the history of a Wikipedia page and see what the edits were. So Open Street Maps does that, and there are tens of thousands of cartography geeks around the world that absolutely love this and have created a really rich data set now. So, I don’t know, maybe ten years ago the data set wasn’t particularly good, but it’s just been steadily, incrementally improving in terms of data quality. And in some aspects it outperforms other closed mapping providers because you just have that collective power of people around the world editing that data.
Stephan Livera – 00:11:54:
And I know this is one of those things where for those listeners focus on privacy and security. There are some listeners who use, let’s say, Graphene OS or Calyx OS and things like this as alternatives to try to get away from Google. And so they are typically using more Open Street Maps applications or applications working off of this data set. So that was definitely interesting. I know there are people using alternative app stores like FDroid and things like this. So do you want to just comment down a little bit on the situation with the accuracy and the completeness of Open Street Maps data as compared to, let’s say, Google Maps or Apple Maps?
Nathan – 00:12:33:
Yeah, sure. So the data quality is effectively in the hands of people that maintain the data. So if we take a look specifically at the bitcoin data set, it looks like back in 2014 there was a huge uptick in additions. So clearly there was some sort of push to get places tacked. Now, of course, that was all prelining days and a lot of people who were in bitcoin in that time may have moved on to different things in terms of vendors and merchant adoption. So there was basically zero Lightning information in Open Street Maps. So what we’ve been doing and we’ve got a community of so we’ve got our core team of the contributors, but we also have these, we call them shadowy super taggers who are basically the plebs around the world who are now tagging up merchants with what we have now, which is a revised set of tags for Lightning, for Lightning contactless as well. So NFC Lightning payments and also being more explicit around on chain acceptance. So, yeah, we’ve been working with the OpenStreetMap community to get a revised set of tanks that make sense for bitcoin today because it’s a very different scene than it was back in 2014 from a merchant adoption perspective. So, yeah, one of the big pieces of work we’ve got to do is go back through the legacy nodes, of which I think we’ve got about six and a half thousand legacy nodes at the minute, and we’re slowly updating those and or deleting them. So if the merchant has gone bust or no longer accepts bitcoin, then that work is as important as adding in new Lightning vendors, for example.
Stephan Livera – 00:14:34:
Got you. So perhaps there’s a bit of a call out for the community there. The plebs, the bitcoin is in every town city to go through and update some of that data. Right. And I think they’ll naturally want to do that because if they’re looking on the map for places that they can spend bitcoin and they find, oh, wait, this place doesn’t take it anymore, or maybe this restaurant is shut down now, and maybe if they find a new restaurant that wants to take it, they can try to get that added. Do you want to just talk to us a little bit about what that looks like at the different levels? So you’ve got the people who can make a suggestion and then there are people who actually know how to go and do the tagging themselves.
Nathan – 00:15:07:
Yeah, so we’ve got two levels, really. So we’ve got the new form, which is on our website. So if you spot a place where you want to add that place to the map, then you can literally just fill out a four field form on our website and there’s a little embedded map there so you can place your pin where that vendor is. And then what that does in the background is that creates a ticket in GitHub. So we get an issue raised, we get notified in our discord where we’ve got the community, and then somebody picks that up. So somebody who can tag so one of these shadowy super taggers can then just pick that ticket up and very easily just either update, add, or remove the data within Open Street Maps. I mean, it’s not a complicated process. So we’re now getting some of the people. So the bitcoin island in the Philippines, that came out of nowhere kind of two weeks ago, and I think they’re now up to something like 200 or so vendors, accepting bitcoin Lightning payments there. They have gone through now and are kind of retrospectively tagging their own data, because what we really encourage people to do is own that data, because it’s not our data, it’s their data. So we really want this grassroots ownership of the data and to maintain that data going forward, because people vendors will change. They’ll come and they’ll go and they’ll maybe stop accepting bitcoin or start accepting contactless payments or whatever it is. So, yeah, the links with the meetups and the local communities is super important for data quality.
Stephan Livera – 00:16:57:
Yeah, I think that makes a lot of sense. I think this is a very natural fit for bitcoin meetups. In each city or town. They can take a more active role for the data in their area. And they’re probably the ones who are trying to drive adoption anyway, right? Like they might be the ones trying to go and talk to this cafe or that restaurant or this business.
Nathan – 00:17:18:
Yes, those are the guys dealing the orange pills kind of locally because they want to drive adoption for themselves. And this is just a tool that helps that. And I find it’s really useful to show local vendors what is available in the area as well. So if people are just coming up the curve and they’re learning about it, and of course they’re apprehensive about it with all of the food in the mainstream, then just showing them a map of places that accept them, whether it be locally or to get some sort of scale, you can look at the global map. It really just takes the edge off that initial conversation with a merchant, I think.
Stephan Livera – 00:17:56:
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So Secondl1ght, we haven’t heard a lot from you. Now do you want to tell us a little bit about your work with the project? Anything you’ve done with BTC map.
Secondl1ght – 00:19:48:
Yeah, so essentially I’ve built out the whole front end of the website and the web app. It’s actually a progressive web app, so you can actually install it on your phone and it will treat it sort of like a native app a little bit. It’ll remove the browser URL bar, it’ll add an icon to your home screen and stuff like that. I’ve been working with Nathan, mentioned Igor earlier, he’s sort of like the main back end guy and also the Android lead. But yeah, I’ve been focusing, like I said on the website and it’s looking pretty nice. I think we have the map. We have, like you mentioned, the add location and also report outdated forms. So we make it super easy to either add a location or edit one, even though, like Nathan was saying, it is fairly simple. And we have a wiki to get on boarded to actually edit the data directly on Open Street Map. And the latest thing actually launched was a cool dashboard page, which where you can see stats on total locations, accepting each payment method, and actually a cool latest super tagger section where it’s actually live data coming in. So as the shadowy super taggers go around and add the data to Open Street Maps, you get a little bit of recognition on the BTC Map website and we plan on building that out further with maybe leaderboards profiles, community pages, stuff like that.
Stephan Livera – 00:21:17:
Fantastic. And as browsing the BTC map.org slash dashboard page now, just as we speak, we’ve got is it 7868 locations and we’ve got to break down there in terms of Lightning on chain contact list as well. And I think this will be handy as well to give people a sense of where they can really go spend in person. I suppose. One other I guess, kind of interesting case is maybe where people are using these custodial ones where you have to use that platform, right? Like if it’s like a Binance thing or things like that, what’s the approach going to be with those where you kind of have to use the walled garden? Is that just going to not be tagged because we want to obviously promote the Open bitcoin and Lightning network?
Nathan – 00:21:57:
Yeah, I’d argue that’s not you can’t spend bitcoin.
Secondl1ght – 00:22:02:
We actually had someone report that the other day. They were like, yeah, I went into this place and they wanted me to do KYC. In my opinion. Anyway, if you have to do KYC, it’s not bitcoin.
Stephan Livera – 00:22:17:
Let’s see that reflected in what the community is out there tagging or adding or removing records even. And I think the other interesting thing is I recall in the 2013 and 2014 days, yeah, it was big rara merchant adoption. And what we found, at least what I saw in those days, was that there might be some merchants or pubs who would take it or be willing to take it, but then not that many people were buying bitcoin there or buying stuff with bitcoin there. And so then they stopped after a little while.
Nathan – 00:22:51:
As I said, I think the UX, I know this is pre my involvement in it, but even today, if you’re trying to do stuff on chain and it’s a two dollar coffee, that’s not what it’s meant for, really. So I think lining completely changed the game in terms of merchant adoption and I think that’s now driving the revival of things like BTCMaps.org because we now can very easily spend bitcoin and merchants don’t even have to like bitcoin. So, you know, I’m spending bitcoin here in Manchester and in the UK and there are now applications, point of sale applications through CoinCorner and others, which means these guys can cash out to fear in real time. So they’re bringing in additional custom because bitcoin is one to frequent places that they can spend bitcoin, but they don’t necessarily have to be hardcore bitcoin as they’re not necessarily huddling that bitcoin. They could be just cashing out to fear. I think Lightnings and some of these poses are changing the game, really?
Stephan Livera – 00:24:01:
Yeah. And so in terms of communities that you’re seeing success in, in terms of tagging and things like this, could you maybe spell out some of the communities that we’re seeing that at least in this early stage?
Nathan – 00:24:12:
Yeah, for sure. So, I mean, our roadmap has been evolving pretty quickly. So we’re only I think it’s off week five now. It feels like it’s been a lot longer. But we rolled out the initial communities, which enables people just to have their own URL endpoint on BTC map, which is a map centered on that community. So we’ve got the Bitcoin Island, Philippines guys are probably the frontrunners. I think they’ve got about 100 or so locations tagged up at the minute. So in terms of density of vendors, they’ve got to be right up there. I think we’ve got Isle of Mann, obviously, that we tagged. We’ve got Gibraltar Bitcoin Rock that they’ve chosen to call themselves. So they’re now tagged up. We’re getting the Bitcoin Acate project down in the township in South Africa. So those guys have started tagging and just this morning, actually, Bitcoin Beach in Brazil have committed to getting all of their information tagged this month. So basically all of the prominent international communities seem to be quite quickly wanting.
Stephan Livera – 00:25:32:
And for good reason, really. I mean, if you’re a tourist or if you want to attract tourists, they need to know where to find you, especially if they are Bitcoin tourists and they want to know, okay, I’m going to go to this town, where can I actually spend? So I think it’s tangible and it makes it more real for people even if you’re not going to go there, because let’s say you are showing somebody, you can now show them, look, here are all the places that you can go in person and spend Lightning today.
Nathan – 00:25:58:
Yeah, and I’ve been showing it to some of my precoinerf friends and it’s a real sort of, oh, wow, this is not just crazy internet money. We can actually go spend this at places. So I think it’s really useful in those normal conversations and like I said earlier with the vendors as well. So I think merchant adoption is one of the most important things right now in terms of moving Bitcoin forward. And I think this project is quite an important part of doing that. Because if we can get all of that data open and into one place, then it means that us and others, because it’s all open, can build on top of that value, right?
Stephan Livera – 00:26:46:
Yeah, I think I might slightly disagree. I think the Hodling is probably the well, I’d say the Huddling adoption is the most important to grow, but I definitely see a value in growing that because for a lot of people, it has to feel real to them. And if they can see people buying real things, then it starts to make it real in their own mind. So you might help kind of bring those precoiners into the conversation or at least into being open minded to bitcoin and actually starting to hold some. And I think that’s really the real adoption as well, because once somebody is trying to actually save in bitcoin or denominate things in bitcoin terms, that’s when you’re really starting to move the needle. If we can get a lot of people thinking like that. I’m curious as well if you have any thoughts on whether apps can plug into this data set.
Nathan – 00:27:34:
Secondl1ght – 00:27:37:
We’re in the process of building out an API right now. There are some end points available, but there’s zero documentation, so we need to work on that. But, yeah, stay tuned. We plan to have some documentation and we’ll essentially have all the data we use available in our API. So if anyone would like to build an application using our data, they’ll be able to do that.
Stephan Livera – 00:27:59:
That’s great. And I know there are already some different apps, and maybe these are made by a provider. So I think I saw one for IBEX Mercado where they would show, okay, here’s all the merchants that we’re supporting. And I know Oshi in America is maybe a similar thing as well, where they’re showing, okay, these are the places you can spend your bitcoin. But then if there’s, let’s say, a data set that’s global, then maybe it can have other uses for people, whether they are a traveler and let’s say they’re a tourist and they just want to have one way of viewing all of the restaurants, pubs, bars, et cetera. I’m also curious as well, the business, or at least the data will show, not just for in person, not just for restaurants and pubs and bars and cafes, but also for just other businesses, like if they do curtains or whatever. Right. It will show that also.
Nathan – 00:28:54:
Yeah, so it’s not just entertainment or any retail, anything will show. So the thing with Open Street Maps is it is based in a physical premise. So you’re talking about places you can spend your bitcoin at, which is different than an online directory of maybe services that don’t have a physical location. So, yeah, we’re very much focused on in person, where can I go and spend bitcoin? Because that’s the mapping element to it. It’s that geographic link. So, yeah, I mean, the data is there. Open Street Map itself has open APIs. We are building APIs on top of that in order to just make the whole process a bit more straightforward. So it’s all free and open source, so people can ultimately download those servers that we’ll create and they will pull in the data from Open Street Maps at the back end.
Stephan Livera – 00:30:01:
Well, yeah, that’s all sounding great. If there are any, I guess, main call outs you have to the community. What are the main call outs? Is it mainly just to contribute with data and tagging or editing if something’s wrong? Or if it’s out of date.
Nathan – 00:30:16:
Yeah, so for now, that’s the big ask. We have a good core team of contributors and we’re shipping software fast and it does feel good. The wider shout out is in terms of the data. So whether you’re new and there’s places that you can just directly on the website enter and we can take care of it in the background. Or I guess more importantly, if people will actually start to tag data themselves. Because like I said, it’s not difficult. It’s basically like editing a spreadsheet. It’s about that complicated. And if we can have a global army of shadowy super tagger plebs maintaining that data for themselves because it’s their local data, then that’s how we scale and that’s how we build resilience into the whole endeavor really, because we’re not then relying on a single organization or a single group of people to maintain some sort of walled garden data set. Everyone owns the data, everyone maintains the data and we get the resilience through that kind of anti fragility, really.
Secondl1ght – 00:31:28:
Oh, sorry, I just wanted to add we’ve been getting some good feedback. Like people seem to be really enjoying like being shadowy super taggers. It’s kind of fun and it’s a way to get involved with a Bitcoin open source project. You can do it on your spare time. Not everyone is going to have design skills or coding skills. And this is sort of it’s almost like a new way you can get involved with Bitcoin open source is the Bitcoin mapping community.
Nathan – 00:31:57:
Yeah, it’s a really good point. It enables pretty much anyone to meaningfully contribute to an open source project without having to be a coder.
Stephan Livera – 00:32:06:
And so maybe there’s an effort there or a project to be undertaken with all the past data as well. That maybe that could be something where some of this can be done as online research and some of it can be done as actually going. If you’re in the area. Obviously going to that restaurant or bar or whatever in person to see if they still take Bitcoin would be handy. And then once we get this data set sort of cleaned up, then it represents a much more accurate state of play and then Bitcoin meetups and communities around the world can get to work.
Nathan – 00:32:37:
Yes, absolutely. And we’ve seen both of those things happen already. So we’re seeing people physically go to places and then they’re contacted us by the forms and say, no, it’s out of business, or whatever and it’s deleted. And then we’re getting other people who are verifying this online as well. So looking at other data sets, so going to Google for whatever and seeing is that place still available? We have people calling up places or looking at their websites, so it doesn’t have to be in person. You can be both in person and online. But it’s amazing because this is just happening now organically. So we’re getting the word out there, mainly through Twitter and engaging with some of these communities. But then we’re getting people just turn up and start doing the work, which is exactly what we want. We just need to scale that more.
Stephan Livera – 00:33:36:
Fantastic. Well, I guess do you have any other thoughts on where you see the project going? Do you see any other future ideas on what you would like to see built into BTCmap.org?
Nathan – 00:33:48:
Yeah, I mean, it’s been really fun four or five weeks so far, and we don’t have a shortage of ideas of where you could take this. I think communities is going to be key. So right now we have these community URLs, which is just basically centered on a map where they are. But if we can start to build that out a bit further and start to give communities a home where to be kind of like the meet up side of things, but more focused on the community. And there’s plenty of ideas that flow from having a place where communities can live.
Stephan Livera – 00:34:30:
Fantastic. Well, I think that’s probably a good spot to finish up. I’ll encourage listeners to get involved, get out there, get tagging, contribute in whatever way you can. And for you guys, Nathan and Secondl1ght , where can listeners find you online?
Secondl1ght – 00:34:42:
Is it okay if I just mentioned one more thing?
Stephan Livera – 00:34:44:
Secondl1ght – 00:34:45:
As far as integration goes, I forgot to say you can actually embed BTC Map on your own website, just with a few lines of code, and that information is available on the Btcmap.org GitHub repo. And we’ve already seen a few places like BoltCard is now using our map on their website. So it’s just kind of a cool another way you can integrate with us.
Stephan Livera – 00:35:08:
Fantastic. All right, so, Nathan and Secondl1ght, where can people find you guys online?
Nathan – 00:35:12:
Yeah, so the best place to go is on the website. So Btcmap.org, and you’ll see links off to our Twitter, which is Btcmap.org on Twitter. And we also have the Discord on there as well, on the website so you can link into our community. And I think we’ve got a couple of hundred people in there at the moment. And we’ve got various different language channels because ultimately we need to be having local people conversing in their local language globally to improve the data set. Yeah, so that’s the corporate stuff. I’m Nathan underscore day on Twitter. It’s my other handle.
Secondl1ght – 00:35:55:
Yeah. For me, everything is Secondl1ght . Twitter GitHub. It’s Secondl, the number one G-H-T. I also have a website secondlight site, and I have a blog on there, too, which I write some articles every now and then.
Stephan Livera – 00:36:10:
Fantastic. Well, thank you both for joining me today.
Nathan – 00:36:12:
Secondl1ght – 00:36:13:
Thanks, Stephan. It was awesome.
Stephan Livera – 00:36:15:
All right, that was the episode. Now, just reading out a few of the boosts from those of you doing Podcasting 2.0, using apps like Fountain Breez, Pod Verse. I’ve got one here from Peanut Butterlife. Lots of enjoyment from this episode relating to the NVK one. My kiddo and I danced your outro music every time an episode closes and have wondered who is the artist? So just for you, the song, the track is called Laidback Summer Vibe. I got it from this website called PremiumBeat.com. So I’ve had this intro and outro music for a couple of years now, so that’s the answer for you. Also got a few boosts there. Got one from Cliff Bjanga and also from Michael McCullough. So thank you to you guys and get the show notes over at stepfanlivera.com. Thanks for listening. I’ll see you guys in the citadels.