When you hear “NFTs,” your brain probably immediately thinks of Ethereum, Solana, Polygon, and perhaps Tezos — the go-to blockchains for digital collectibles, each of which has already fostered a strong community of artists, collectors, and builders. In contrast, Bitcoin NFTs — despite existing since 2014 — failed to gain traction, to the great relief of BTC purists, who despise the idea of using the network for other purposes than essential financial transactions.
But now, Bitcoin NFTs are on the rise — thanks to the Ordinals protocol developed by Casey Rodarmor, the former Bitcoin Core contributor. The launch of the project has already sparked a fierce debate on whether the so-called “digital artifacts” are a legitimate use of Bitcoin blockspace.
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Adam Back, CEO of Blockstream (the leading Bitcoin development firm that sponsors core devs), wasn’t particularly happy with the launch of Ordinals, decrying the project as a waste of blockspace, along with other hard-line Bitcoiners such as Luke Dashjr and Jameson Lopp.
"It’s also fair game for miners to censor the crap as a form of discouragement," Back stated in a now-deleted tweet. Shortly after, he retracted this controversial statement, saying, "I retracted/deleted that as it was stupid and getting misinterpreted."
Back later softened his stance on Ordinals, clarifying that he didn’t actually mean that miners should censor transactions on the network.
“‘You can't stop them’ well ofc! bitcoin is designed to be censor resistant. doesn't stop us mildly commenting on the sheer waste and stupidity of an encoding. at least do something efficient. otherwise it's another proof of consumption of block-space thingy,” he said.
Some people also warned that the surge in NFT transactions will likely drive fees on the blockchain higher, excluding marginalized people from transacting. Bitcoin was meant to bring equality to all 8 billion people, but now it’s being abused by privileged people who want NFTs as status symbols — which is an affront to Satoshi’s vision.
Others argued that any kind of censorship is unacceptable and that NFTs can actually improve the state of the network, providing more revenue to miners and bringing more value to the blockchain. “If you pay a tx fee, it’s not spam,” Bitcoin educator Dan Held opined.
Ordinals creator Casey Rodarmor disagreed that NFTs will inevitably cause a rise in transaction fees, opining that Bitcoin’s block size limit would prevent it.
“Inscriptions do not bypass the block size limit, so nothing has changed in that regard. They may lead to an increase in the average size of blocks, but that effect is marginal, and it only increases the average size of blocks, not the cost to validate them,” Rodarmor stated.
“I understand the argument that NFTs are lame and stupid, but I don't understand the argument that NFTs are somehow *illegitimate*. Bitcoin has transcended its original creator and purpose. Bitcoin is not *for* some things and *not for* other things. It just is,” he added.
In his blog post, Rodarmor explained how the Ordinals protocol allows users to assign arbitrary content to a single satoshi, a process called inscription. Once inscribed, that satoshi stays unique forever. What’s more, the inscription doesn’t require a separate token or a sidechain.
“When mined, the inscription is made on the first sat of the first output of the transaction, permanently and inexorably marking it, distinguishing it from its fellows. It is no longer just a sat, it is an intertwined component of the long and confusing tale that is human art and culture,” Rodarmor wrote.
The mechanism of inscription was made possible due to the Taproot upgrade in 2021, which was originally intended to enable smart contracts on Bitcoin. For that reason, some people believe that Ordinals can be called an exploit or bug, since developers didn’t envision Taproot being used for bringing “NFT spam” on the network.
Regardless of what side are you on in this debate, it became obvious that Ordinals NFTs raised a genuine philosophical question: who decides what constitutes a legitimate bitcoin transaction? For now, it seems to be unanswerable, but time has a way of bringing clarity.