Bitcoin-based NFTs and meme tokens aren’t losing steam. Far from it—Ordinals inscriptions topped 9 million on Thursday, tripling the total of digital artifacts on the blockchain since May 1, when the number was just over 3 million, per public blockchain data curated by Dune.
Ordinals is a protocol for “inscribing” things like artwork, profile pictures, and even applications and playable games on the Bitcoin blockchain. It launched in January and quickly became a phenomenon as users etched media onto the blockchain.
While some detractors continue to call Ordinals a misuse of the Bitcoin blockchain that should be blocked on the network—amid rising network congestion and transaction fees—other Bitcoin advocates like MicroStrategy founder Michael Saylor call the protocol a "catalyst" for Bitcoin adoption.
“Every time someone builds an application that’s cool on Bitcoin, like all the Ordinals and inscriptions and whatever that are driving up transaction fees, it's a catalyst,” Saylor said on the PBD Podcast earlier this month.
Saylor further said at last week’s Bitcoin 2023 event that MicroStrategy—the public company with the largest stockpile of Bitcoin on its balance sheet—is looking into how to use Ordinals to launch applications that run on the blockchain.
Bitcoin Ordinals were already a hot topic after Bitcoin developer Casey Rodamor launched the protocol in January, but it wasn't immediately clear whether the short-term buzz would hold.
Ordinals' popularity surged again after the BRC-20 token standard was implemented in March, allowing for the creation of fungible tokens (including meme tokens) on Bitcoin using the same protocol. Nowadays, daily text-based inscriptions used to mint BRC-20 tokens vastly outnumber inscriptions for artwork and other media.
With BRC-20, creative developers began loading the Bitcoin network with meme tokens that sent the cost of network transactions skyrocketing. On May 8, the daily fees paid to create Bitcoin Ordinals hit a high of 257 BTC, around $6.7 million at the time.
"Contrary to what you might see in certain filter bubbles on Twitter, higher fees on Bitcoin are a very good thing," pseudonymous Ord.io founder Leonidas told Decrypt after the Ordinals tally hit 3 million. "It indicates strong demand for Bitcoin's block space, which is critical for the long-term success of the protocol."
NFT marketplaces have taken notice of the popularity of Ordinals. In April, Magic Eden added support for Ordinals, with Binance adding support to its marketplace in May.
And the rise of NFTs and meme tokens via Ordinals has spread beyond Bitcoin too: Ordinals has been ported over to both Litecoin and Dogecoin, which share origins in Bitcoin’s code, leading to surging transactions across those chains as well.