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After a 48-hour coding sprint, a Friend.tech look-alike dubbed Alpha launched on top of Bitcoin this weekend, bringing a social token experience to users of the venerated blockchain.
Like Friend.tech—which is built on Ethereum scaling network Base and saw a flurry of activity last month (and a recent revival)—Alpha is a decentralized social network protocol that lets users tokenize and monetize their online presence and content via tokens.
In other words, people can buy tokens tied to individual creators that rise or fall in price, and can be used to gate access to exclusive content. It’s another incarnation of the “social token” concept, and social finance projects like these are often billed as being a way to bring new users into the crypto space.
After the recent Friend.tech surge, pseudonymous Alpha founder Punk3700 described his Bitcoin-based platform to Decrypt as “the next big leap in the world of social finance.” Despite building it in a weekend, he said the project “aims to bring a luxurious and exclusive experience to social interactions.”
At the time of writing, new users are joining the network every few minutes, many of which amass tens or even hundreds of thousands of Twitter followers.
Punk3700 is also one of the core members behind New Bitcoin City, an ecosystem that is dabbling in art, on-chain gaming, decentralized finance (DeFi), and AI as a way to “explore Bitcoin beyond just a currency.”
Alpha is the collective's latest development—but its unique tech stack isn’t entirely focused on Bitcoin. According to its founder, Alpha “runs a rollup that rolls up to another rollup that rolls up to Bitcoin.”
What does that even mean? In short, it’s a way of using multiple blockchain networks to create an experience that can be responsive and scalable. In this case, the project leverages a hybrid blockchain architecture with several components: Bitcoin, Ethereum scaling network Polygon, and the project’s own Bitcoin scaling network called Trustless Computer.
According to New Bitcoin City’s website, a Trustless Computer is a low-cost and speedy layer-2 blockchain built on top of Bitcoin that can support things like a decentralized exchange (DEX), tokenized communities called decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs), and NFT marketplaces.
It is a no-code tool that allows for developers to choose whether they want to implement Optimistic rollups or zero-knowledge rollups (zkRollups) to facilitate apps built on top of Bitcoin.
Alpha’s hybrid design uses Optimistic rollups as a scaling solution by moving computation and data storage off-chain from Bitcoin. It currently taps into Polygon, the Ethereum scaling network, using it for data storage—although Punk3700 says data availability can eventually live 100% on Bitcoin “if need be.”
This is one of the differences Alpha has with Friend.tech. Built on Base, Friend.tech leverages rollups directly on Ethereum, inheriting the network’s security. Alpha has to look elsewhere for solutions.
“Rollups on Bitcoin right now aren't true rollups because Bitcoin can't verify proofs,” explained Bob Bodily, CEO of Bioniq, an Ordinals marketplace that runs on a Bitcoin sidechain. Lack of verification on Bitcoin’s part means a certain degree of centralization will exist.
That said, he told Decrypt that “people don’t usually wait around for full decentralization,” pointing to the billions locked in layer-2 networks on Ethereum. “People are keen to experiment with new tech.”
Even so, Bodily isn’t sold on the answers Alpha’s team provided in response to some of the concerns expressed over the project. He said he still doesn't know who owns the smart contracts deployed on the Ethereum Virtual Machine (EVM) rollups, whether they’re upgradeable or immutable, and more.
Tokenomics also raise some enormous red flags, which the team has yet to address. According to the Trustless Computer website, the token supply is approximately $100 million TC, with 99.8% of it sitting in one address.
“I've been digging in the explorer, but it's very hard to figure it all out,” Bodily said.
Even amid such concerns, Alpha’s launch has sent a ripple of excitement throughout the Bitcoin space, much as the NFT-like Ordinals protocol and its BRC-20 token standard did earlier this year.
Jake Gallen, strategy lead at Emblem Vault, has been at the forefront of the launch. Emblem Vault is a tool that lets users store tokens across blockchains without need for a bridge. “There is a more authentic feel to it,” Gallen told Decrypt, citing a friendlier user experience, along with the fact that “there is no point in airdrop farming.”
“If you're building a brand, the goal is to distribute awareness across platforms," he concluded. “Just as most people have multiple social media accounts across multiple apps, crypto users will use SocialFi on whichever blockchain they prefer.”