An interview with Brian Hoffman, Project Lead at OpenBazaar, on the new and first-ever decentralized online marketplace.

Cointelegraph: How does OpenBazaar differ from eBay or Amazon?

Brian Hoffman: Well most of how it works is under the hood. In order for the network to be decentralized without a slew of Amazon or eBay datacenters hosting a single application, we use peer-to-peer software similar to BitTorrent.

This connects everyone directly to each other dynamically, which means that everyone hosts their own store locally and not on some remote server somewhere in the world. This places users much more in control of their business. It's almost like running your own independent business rather than being part of some central ecosystem.

There are obviously advantages and disadvantages to this model, but I will give you a synopsis of some of the benefits we find to be important. First and foremost is control. Because you control all your store data, you have full control over who has access to your private financial and business information.

This also gives you more control over how you protect it. If you choose to operate your business working through Tor you will be able to cloak your operations and preserve your privacy. If you choose to work purely on the Clearnet that is also fine, it's up to you.

“It's almost like running your own independent business rather than being part of some central ecosystem.

“This creates a borderless trade system that no longer is limited to corporate interests.”

- Brian Hoffman, OpenBazaar

Another benefit is that you have control over what and how you list your items. No longer do you have to worry about a centralized business dictating the rules of operation (i.e. what kinds of items you want to list, what price, where you can sell or buy from). This creates a borderless trade system that no longer is limited to corporate interests. 

Secondly is, as a protocol, OpenBazaar will support many types of business operations, not just direct sales or auctions (la eBay). You will be able to conduct all sorts of activities like lending, crowdfunding, crypto security issuance. The sky is the limit and users will help us flesh out these use cases as time goes on.

The thing that makes this work, though, is our arbitration system, which uses multisignature transactions and a reputation system that is being built currently. It will provide assurance that the parties you interact with work responsibly and in a trustworthy way.

Finally, the biggest benefit here is that this is a community-based project that everyone drives forward. There are never any fees extracted by our team for opening an OpenBazaar business, so there's no profit driving motivation to make self-serving changes or screw over the users. In that way, you all control what the project does and how it does it.

CT: Describe how multisignature transactions protect buyers and sellers

BH: Well as I mentioned before there will be many use cases, but I can describe the current use case we support which is a direct sale.

In this case there are three parties: buyer, seller and notary. The one party who is new here is the notary. A notary essentially is responsible for coordinating the transaction and stepping in when there are issues between the buyer and seller.

The way that works is that a seller will create contracts for offer and digitally sign the terms. A buyer will visit a seller's storefront and purchase a contract. This order is additionally signed by the buyer and sent to the notary. The notary will enter their arbitration terms into the contract and sign it as well.

This contract is then distributed to the buyer and seller so that all three parties possess a copy. From here, the buyer will deposit the necessary funds into a multisignature Bitcoin address. Once this is completed the seller will ship or deliver the item so that the buyer can then release the funds to him.

If there is an issue then the notary can be messaged and asked to step in to either refund the buyer or credit the seller. So this is a simplified explanation, but generally how it works. 

OpenBazaar logo

CT: I recently downloaded the OpenBazaar client. What do I need to do to become a seller?

BH: Once you have the software up and running, you should be connected as a store automatically. All you have to do is add items to your Contracts tab, make sure your Settings are configured to your preferences, and you should be all ready to go.

CT: Does OpenBazaar support any cryptocurrencies other than Bitcoin?

BH: We do not support any other currencies at the moment because we feel like it will be trivial to add additional crypto support later, once the network is stable and other issues are addressed. Others are free, however, to work with us to build ways to support others in flexible ways and we are soliciting feedback on that.

CT: So you are looking for code contributions?

BH: We are always looking for more help and we get it unsolicited most of the time through our GitHub repository.

CT: OpenBazaar is currently in beta testing. Do you have an official launch scheduled?

BH: We originally were going to try for a set date of the end of the year. Now we have shifted to a continuous update schedule on a monthly basis. This means that putting your finger down on a 1.0 release will be hard.

We just promise to continue working, iteratively improving the software and delivering mini-releases each month. We think this will be more beneficial for customers rather than deliver a huge monolithic release at who-knows-when.

“Our goal is to create something for everyone, not just the Darknet crowd.”

- Brian Hoffman

CT: Why did you design a decentralized market place?

BH: I didn't originally design it. I have to give credit where credit is due. That was Amir Taaki and his crew. Since April, though, when they let go of the code and we took over, we have made thousands of lines of code changes and made all kinds of improvements and architecture changes to improve the software.

I don't believe we are going in the exact direction they intended, but one of our own and that's great. I think we've done a good job of giving ourselves our own identity and it's going well.

CT: What aspect of life would you like to see decentralized next?

BH: For me, the next big place I'd like to see innovation is shipping and physical delivery. If you can start to innovate here then there's a whole new wealth of opportunities for peer-to-peer trade. It gets really exciting to think about we can continue to decentralize all these huge, monolithic business models.

CT: What are your hopes for OpenBazaar's future?

BH: My hope is that the project continues for a long time and starts to actually carve away at traditional e-commerce centralized options. I would love to see my family using it and not feel like they're dealing drugs or in some kind of Darknet Hell when they use the software.

Our goal is to create something for everyone, not just the Darknet crowd. We also are working on something we call OpenBazaar Labs. Dr. Washington Sanchez is leading that effort and we're dreaming up new and innovative ways that OpenBazaar could be used.

This will allow us to create small little skunkworks-type projects that could eventually make it into the core software. This is pretty exciting and we will have more to announce soon.

Interested in learning more, staying updated, or opening your very own OpenBazaar store? Check out the OpenBazaar blog, which is jam-packed with useful information.

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