The Potential Pitfalls of Lightning Network Visualizations


 Data visualization is rapidly proving a popular tool among those gauging the adoption of Bitcoin’s Lightning Network. However, despite the colorful allure these visualizers hold, they are not necessarily an accurate depiction of the network’s increased adoption. Furthermore, the visualizers will soon become both obsolete and unfeasible, as the Lightning Network adds further privacy features.

Since the Bitcoin payment protocol Lightning Network – intended to make payments significantly easier, faster and cheaper – was launched it has garnered a notable amount of steam. This year has seen the Lightning Network pass several important milestones, such as passing over 1000 mainnet payment channels and the launch of Blockstream’s ”Lightning Charge” payment processing system for web retailers. Many Lightning Network aficionados have taken to visualizers to get an understandable overview of exactly how quickly adoption of the network is growing. These visualizers are impressive all on their own, and have been constructed in many different varieties, from simple 3D models to animation heavy creations.

However, the accuracy of these visualizations is now being called into question. For example, a developer at Lightning Labs commented that ”most of the snapshots will become increasingly irrelevant”. This comes as the visualization pictures are based on single nodes, which do not have access to all of the Lightning Network. This means that any and all such renderings will have a limited view of the entire network. Nonetheless, the images do hold some use, as it is still a comprehensible way to view how parts of the network are growing. It can also be used to gauge whether or not the Lightning Network is truly moving towards the decentralized network its white paper promises to be.

Even so, visualizations will grow more inaccurate as the Lightning Network expands. The fact that nodes can only be partially observed is no flaw – it is a privacy feature. Furthermore, temporarily inactive channels may be hidden altogether from the visualization, which primarily showcases recently active nodes and channels. There is, therefore, growing suspicions amount the Lightning Network community that the network may, in fact, be far larger than what the images depict.

However, the visualizers might very way be on the way out, owing to potential upcoming Lightning Network privacy features, which would render the visualizers incapable of collecting certain data regarding the nodes. This brings a major benefit to the security of users, but it is also threatening to make comprehensive visualization images a thing of the past. On the other hand, this might be a necessary step, since visualizations of the Lightning Network might otherwise soon end up becoming an indistinguishable muddle due to increased adoption.

Image Source: “Flickr”

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