An untouchable Internet-based market is on the verge of release. OpenBazaar, once just a proof-of-concept for a decentralized marketplace run on Bitcoin, entered beta 1.0 Tuesday morning.
The developers announced the beta in a blog post, paired with an accompanying tutorial and several caveats. Participating is limited to those with technical know-how who want to help test. There are risks. They warn that:
“While you can engage in real trade, the purpose will be to test the platform, not actually run a store.”
On the other hand, if you want to test out the marketplace, whether to help or simply out of or curiosity, they posted detailed instructions.
OpenBazaar, as the market's billed, hopes to revolutionize the likes of Amazon. Screenshots of the bazaar resembles a "normal" ecommerce site. Sellers can tag their products and buyers are able to find them through a couple of keyword searches. All parties can provide feedback on other users, buyers or sellers, in a reputation and ratings system. It is not a far cry from auction-based eBay.
The up-and-coming marketplace shares many similarities with Silk Road, the notorious online drug market squeezed by the feds last fall. OpenBazaar plans to hook up with the anonymity software Tor to provide a level of privacy. Bitcoin is the payment method of choice. But unlike Silk Road, it would take more than a single point of failure to shut the new market down as it is decentralized by its nature.
Such a mixture could surely provide cover for illicit purchases. But viewing it exclusively through the drug market lens is limiting. OpenBazaar's mission explicitly departs from the illegal Silk Road activity. Swap Silk Road lens for a forward thinking one, and that's where the project gets interesting.
OpenBazaar aims to revolutionize online commerce
The developers have a bone to pick with existing ecommerce websites. “Seller fees? GTFO,” a teaser trailer quips. Unlike Amazon, it is free to set up shop at the open-source market. Middlemen that require seller fees are no longer the only conduit. Now the similarities to Bitcoin are starting to show.
The market could attract anyone who likes cheaper stuff, i.e. most people. The teaser video pitches it as a subversive tool that will “help us change the way we buy, change the way we sell, change the way we interact.” But it is hitched to the success of Bitcoin. A decentralized marketplace wouldn't work very well without a decentralized currency.
Uncensorableness is one selling point. Decentralized markets enable transactions that Amazon and payment processors might restrict. Funnily enough, in the teaser trailer raw milk sits in the users shopping cart. The sale of raw milk is heavily regulated and restricted in many areas.
What's more, the developers want to make it “father-in-law”-friendly. Maybe by the end of the year, after a few months of repaired beta releases.
In short, they want to build an open-source super-eBay that easily connects buyers to sellers, but in a decentralized and global way. That's not to say heroin dealers and gun peddlers won't join the pseudonymous market. The decentralized market is without a central command center after all.
How did we get here?
Months ago, a team of developers drafted a decentralized market called DarkMarket at the Toronto Bitcoin hackathon. It was initially pitched as a new Silk Road that the FBI would have trouble extinguishing. In the style of BitTorrent or Bitcoin, rather than targeting a single point of failure police would need to target a significant fraction of users in order to dent it.
The DarkMarket developers dropped the project. Their schedules were too jammed with other pressing Bitcoin projects—in developer Amir Taaki's case, the Bitcoin anonymity tool DarkWallet took first priority. After catching wind of the name, Redditors rallied around a petition to change it to Free Market. The developers effectively said no. "Be the change you want to see" Taaki wrote back.
OpenBazaar met this challenge. They swapped the name and soon replaced their dark gray background with a clean white interface. The teaser trailer is adorned with the essence of sophistication: a fierce Michael Jackson dubstep remix.
But as we've seen, the changes weren't merely cosmetic. OpenBazaar has turned DarkMarket's proof-of-concept into a real marketplace. It might feel like the project is “inching,” but it is moving quite fast, even if some of us might be impatient to try out the tool.
Not only have the developers rebranded, the beta version is already in action. OpenBazaar plans to officially roll out for general users by the end of the year. Just in time to buy holiday chocolates and stocking stuffers—or whatever actually shows up on the marketplace.
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