When it comes to digital collectibles, most enthusiasts think of Ethereum, Solana, or Polygon—deservedly, as proof-of-stake blockchains have cornered the NFT marketplace. But digital collectibles using the Bitcoin blockchain have existed since 2014, and several projects have made it their continuing mission to bring NFTs to the first and biggest cryptocurrency.
NFTs are digital assets that are provably unique and linked to digital (and sometimes physical) content like digital art, movies, and music that show proof of ownership or membership in an exclusive group.
Even though NFTs have been in the Bitcoin ecosystem for nearly a decade, however, some still don’t see the point.
One of these projects is Ordinals, and some Bitcoin maximalists are calling it an affront to Bitcoin principles.
Ordinals creator Casey Rodarmor takes the criticism in stride, saying the controversy helps his cause.
“I actually love the haters,” he said. “I mean, they do more to drive people to find out about the project than anybody else. I don’t know what they think when they have these massive audiences, and they go, ‘This is an attack on Bitcoin’—it seems like you don’t want to do that if you don’t want people to use the thing.”
Rodarmor is a former Bitcoin Core contributor who designed Ordinals to allow the transferring of individual satoshis on the Bitcoin network. “The Ordinals protocol is just a system for numbering Satoshis, giving individual sats a serial number, and then tracking them across transactions,” Rodarmor told Decrypt in an interview.
The Ordinals protocol enables users to explore, transfer, and receive individual satoshis, which may include unique inscribed data such as videos and images. The process of adding assets to individual satoshis is called inscription. As Rodarmor explains, inscriptions make it possible to put content in a Bitcoin transaction and assign it to a satoshi. Once completed, Rodarmor says, the inscriptions are stored in a Bitcoin transaction’s signature.
The process stays entirely on the Bitcoin network and does not require a sidechain or additional token, according to Rodarmor. “My design goal, from the beginning, was to create something that would strike people as being Bitcoin native,” he said. “That means it can’t have a token, and it can’t be a sidechain.”
Satoshis—named after Satoshi Nakamoto, the pseudonymous creator of the Bitcoin blockchain—is the smallest unit of a Bitcoin. When someone buys a cup of coffee using BTC, they are most likely using satoshis instead of a whole Bitcoin, which currently trades around $22,700 per coin, according to Coingecko.
“This use of block space is probably the lowest impact use compared to other things that you can do,” Rodarmor says. “Full nodes download this data, but then they ignore it,” The inscriptions have no resource requirements, he adds, refuting claims that Ordinals and inscriptions abuse the Bitcoin protocol or would drive up transaction costs.
“One thing that people don’t understand is that in order for Bitcoin to be secure, blocks must be full—that is part of the Bitcoin security model,” he said. “If blocks are not full, nobody has any reason to pay more than the minimum fee rate to have their transactions included. So, as a result, blocks must be full.”
Rodarmor says that while inscriptions contribute to making blocks full, inscriptions do not change the size of the Bitcoin block. That would be something Rodarmor says he would not advocate.
Even in the event of another upgrade to the Bitcoin network, Rodarmor says it would be unlikely to cause any problems for Ordinals, as the protocol only relies on minor parts of the Bitcoin network.
“[Ordinals] relies on the fact that transactions have inputs, transactions have outputs, [and] that inputs and outputs are valued in satoshis,” he said. “So you can’t break Ordinals in an upgrade without breaking a whole lot of other things.”
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