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Comparing Two Revolutionary Networks: Lightning and the Internet

Comparing Two Revolutionary Networks: Lightning and the Internet

Virtually every epistemologist from Aristotle (4th century BCE) to Kant (18th century CE) agrees that we learn by categorizing and comparing the things in the world. Want to compare apples and oranges? Go ahead. The question is not whether they can be compared, but what we can learn from a comparison.

And they said it couldn’t be done! Ha!

Even though the Lightning Network is a human invention, we still know surprisingly little about it. How does the number of LSPs required vary with the number of users? How does the graph’s complexity relate to the network’s throughput? When will mass adoption happen? What does a bitcoin-based Lightning economy look like? How will this technology transform the markets and societies we know?

We’re fortunate that another network has been using technology to transform societies around the world, bringing people together, making us more efficient, and giving us all opportunities we’d never had before. That network, of course, is the mother of them all: the internet.

Maybe the features and development of the internet can help us learn about where the Lightning Network is going, what it needs, and what we can do.

It all started with an idea…

Both the internet and Lightning were first described conceptually before they were ever built. We have JCR Licklider to thank for the first articulation of the Internet, which he dubbed the “Intergalactic Computer Network” in 1962 (who do I talk to about bringing that awesome name back?). He foresaw “a globally interconnected set of computers through which everyone could quickly access data and programs from any site.”

The Lightning equivalent would be, perhaps counterintuitively, the original bitcoin whitepaper. This is the best comparison because Licklider was talking about infrastructure — a technicians’ network — rather than a tool for mass utility. He described it in terms of compi...

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