Thomas Jestopher on Building Amboss.space

Amboss.space is the result of a collaborative effort between Anthony Potdevin (creator of Thunderhub) and Thomas Jestopher (routing node operator, writer, and speaker) to build a superior explorer for Lightning Network users.

I recently had a chance to catch up with Jestopher and chat about the trajectory of this new addition to the node operator’s toolbelt.

(For an overview of the functionality provided by Amboss.space, check out Jestopher’s recent presentation on Bitcoin Kindergarten; to give feedback on Amboss.space, head over to their Telegram channel.)

Even though Amboss.space is fairly new, it seems to be growing pretty quickly as the preferred network explorer for network enthusiasts. Why do you think that is? 

I think it’s just the fact that we’ve organized the information in a way that it’s ready for Lightning Network users to use. 

The Loop Node on Amboss Space

One example of that is the Loop page—we’ve noticed that that’s the most frequently visited page on Amboss.space. 

Because you can see all the competing fee rates, suddenly the market forces start to take effect, and we’re actually witnessing that people are undercutting each other as far as fee rates go. 

That wasn’t possible before because the information was in, you know, several different areas of the Internet—us just bringing that together really, really helped out. 

One of my favorite features of Amboss.space is the fee analysis—specifically because it does, as you said, condense information that is otherwise spread out in different places into one view, tailored around specific choices you may have to make as a node operator. 

Do you have any visions on the horizon for new ways to present information in Amboss.space?

I think that’s like the biggest challenge for us—and also the biggest opportunity—because there’s so much data out there that routing nodes get to experience: there’s a whole bunch of information in gossip, and there’s a whole bunch of information in blobs. 

From that, we can start constructing some really meaningful visualizations. 

So it’s been a personal interest of mine to come up with really cool visuals to help people answer those questions that start to come up. 

Just organizing the fee rates into one spot—that enables you to have a little bit more time to maybe ask some other questions, like “OK, what’s the structure of this network? Who am I connected to?”, and I think the next questions are going to be “What are the flows like?” and “What are the characteristics of these different nodes?” 

Where we’re going with it, it’s about creating a social profile for your node.

We will be able to self-evaluate and evaluate each other, maybe better than [by using] an objective measure of what your node’s “score” is. 

Currently all these insights offered by Amboss.space seem to be guided by the idea: “Here’s transparent and actionable information, tailored around the choices you might make as a node operator.” 

Where is the line between tailored data and opinionated evaluations [for Amboss.space]? How do you feel about making value assumptions with this data, the way that opaque scoring systems do? 

I think there’s going to be multiple scores. 

I think the one score that really sticks out is the BOS score—I think there’s a lot of focus on it. 

Channel capacity overview on Amboss.space

I like the fact that it’s an opaque score, and I understand that a lot of people hate the fact that it’s an opaque score, because, you know, there’s someone watching your node behavior, and at the end of it it’s spitting out a score for you. 

And so suddenly, you, as an operator, are like “well, I feel judged because I think I’m doing a fantastic job of routing payments all over the network, and this other third party that I’m not connected to is saying that I’m doing it wrong.” 

So, I’m looking forward to multiple scores emerging. 

I think we’ve already got some centrality measures which give you a number; it gives you a score: “How many times am I the shortest path from all these points in the network to another point on the network?” 

That tells me [whether] I’m at the center of the network, but it doesn’t really tell any meaningful information about what size the channels should be, or “is my liquidity allocated properly?”

That’s the main question, I think, for a routing node: “How do I allocate the limited sats that I have, so that they are useful and usable by the network, so that I can earn a fee rate to pay for my on-chain costs?”

Exactly, yeah—there’s the urge to want to quantify your value to the network. 

I guess specifically what I’m interested in, not to harp too much on this, is the area between what Amboss.space seems to be doing so well—presenting use-case tailored data while making no assertions about what is implied by that data—and opinionated rankings or evaluations, which I also agree are helpful tools that have their place. 

Do you have interest in offering opinionated evaluations alongside use-case tailored data? 

Hm, let’s see—we haven’t built out the infrastructure quite yet, but it will be set up to do some evaluations and maybe some “premium”  insights. 

I think it’s an exciting field because all these people are joining the network, which is awesome, but there’s a lot of pressure on Lightning Network right now because we’ve got 6 million people that are going to be joining the Lightning Network in less than 90 days. 

Like, I’m imagining this supply squeeze on Raspberry Pis as people are spinning up nodes, so I want to be able to deliver those insights to help people make good decisions as quickly as I can, because after El Salvador joins, I’m expecting more countries to join. 

I love the Lightning Network, and I’m curious if we have quite enough sats on the network to provide for all that commerce. 

When it comes to measures and insights and evaluations, half the battle is just giving people the information to help them make good decisions for themselves. 

They may be able to evaluate themselves or evaluate others—that’s the social scoring part of it. 

There’s not going to be one objective measure, you know? It’s always going to be subject to some sort of bias, but I have a feeling that everyone on the network is going to find their own niche because we each have our own personal social network. 

And I view the Lightning Network as a social network. So, like: “I know someone that needs your liquidity, so please just connect to me and then I’ll manage all those connections that I have.” 

I think that’s the way that networks grow—they don’t grow by way of the largest player on the network, [it’s about] continually expanding the network and connecting more nodes—and that’s the way the Lightning Network will expand. There are only so many sats to go around, so you’ve gotta be smart about it—each individual player. 

I know this is a little further in scope from the immediate squeeze, but I only bring it up because you explored the topic in the video presentation you just did for Bitcoin Kindergarten—you started to talk more generally about the privacy market, which I think is a really interesting thing to consider both on the protocol and tooling level. 

I know that there’s already the opportunity to claim your node [on Amboss.space] to facilitate a lot of the fundamental reasons that you might imagine you’d like to coordinate with a peer: fee rates, liquidity allocation and balance, etc. 

From a tooling perspective, after this squeeze (I know that there are a lot of unknowns), what is your general vision for how Amboss.space factors into this idea of a privacy market, and what contributions do you see possible to make? 

There are a lot—there’s a ton of design questions on how to make that data intelligible, and there’s still the question of “are people willing to share the data that they have?” 

I’m super curious about that. 

I know from just interacting with different peers on Telegram—I can ask them, “where did this routing event come from? Did you start that one or did it come from somewhere else?”, and sometimes they’ll tell me. 

I’m not paying them to—it’s really nice because the Lightning Network is “private by default”, but you can willingly share the data.

Today it’s just really clunky because you have to talk to each individual party and have a conversation instead of having, maybe, a prearranged agreement. 

I know some people on the network like to have certain times where they lower their fee rates so that everyone can rebalance very inexpensively, which is cool and all, but it’s not a smooth way to really operate—but it makes me think that we will have some kind of “free trade agreements”, kind of like countries do. 

We might be able just to do it with contracts or agreements that we have with each other. 

So if I’m understanding correctly, you would see Amboss.space’s role as helping to facilitate or standardize that communication?

Yeah, I think—we haven’t gotten that far as far as standardizing it… 

I know, I’m asking way ahead… 

…but in general, I think we want to help facilitate that coordination—get people talking to each other. 

The BTC21de node on Amboss.space

I think a big part of that is just having contact information on the node page—some method to communicate. 

I am starting to see some privacy concerns because now we’re signing with the node—we’re showing that we have control of it and we’re stating “this is my Telegram; this is my Twitter”, so those will be linked. 

But you can just create a burner email address and associate that with your node. 

That might be one privacy mitigation, because I think a lot of people do want to have some plausible deniability—like, “who owns that node?” 

So that’s one part of privacy—is this node mine?—and then the other part is the transaction level, where we can say “hey, this is actually a special transaction and I want to communicate that to you: the fact that I made this payment.” 

Maybe this is the El Salvador node and another government entity node, like “I want to communicate to the entire network that we have made this payment”, so that it could be out in the open. 

So that’s not something that really exists right now, but I think there will be demand for it in some way; just to say “hey, I’ve done this and I want to share about it”, and then we might, as network operators, be able to research some of the things around that [shared data] and be able to piece together a more meaningful story that might help us allocate liquidity in the future. 

There are a lot of steps in between that. 

Yeah, absolutely, I know what I’m asking about is far ahead, but you kind of piqued my interest with the privacy market consideration.

Yeah, I think it came up first with the griefing attack that you did with me. 

Because we were wondering after the fact: “well, how do you find out who the attacker is?” 

And so what you could do is a kind of “trace”—you know where these payments are coming from [directly], so you can ask peers. 

Then, hopefully if everyone cooperates, you would be able to find the initiator of that attack. 

I’d be willing to pay to get that information from you just to shut down the attacker or to block someone. 

Absolutely, that’s a really interesting case to bring up in this context because there’s such a strong mutually beneficial interest amongst the ring of victims to share that information with each other. 

Right? 

I think we might witness sort of like a moral economy—we might choose to completely shut ourselves off from one particular node, even though they operate publicly. 

We’re kind of watching Strike or, you know, Sphinx for example—they kind of create their own walled off networks, which is cool, and I think they do that to protect themselves from some of the other activities that might happen on a public network. 

So we’ll see how that plays out—like, whether the public “excommunicates” certain nodes and say, you know, “we don’t want you messing around and being a bad actor on a repeated basis.” 

Yeah, I mean the same kind of idea is present in the concept of watchtowers—mutually coordinated moral vigilance and punishment. 

And we might see that smooth out a little bit when we have Eltoo and transactions will just have the correct data—we could just correct the record. 

I know we’ve spent a lot of time talking about the ways in which engaging the enthusiasts in the community and listening to their input has worked out to the benefit of Amboss.space—what challenges do you encounter sourcing feedback from such an impassioned pool of users? 

Mostly, I just want to record it all at this point, because some people might have some unique use cases that might emerge and my job to see if there’s a pattern there—to see if there’s maybe a market that we could help facilitate with the information that we share. 

But there are so many tools that are coming out—for example, LnRouter, where you can probe routes. Between having that probe functionality and having cool visualizations to help make good decisions—those two pieces mesh very well together. 

So we’ll see how the ecosystem changes as these new projects come up. 

I’m just excited to hear people’s feedback and help make some of those markets happen. 

Awesome—I really appreciate the time that you’ve taken to chat with me here. 

Thanks! Please give Joko a hard time for me. 

Will do.

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