OpenBazaar on the Rise of the Decentralized Marketplace

September 15, 2014 13:10 UTC

Buzz has carried OpenBazaar for months. If you’re actively crawling over Bitcoin news, you’ve probably heard of the online marketplace. In short, the developers aim to modernize the way we buy stuff online. Ebay and Amazon played their part when they sprung up to allow an entirely new way to trade online.

It’s already streamlined and pretty awesome in contrast to the inconvenient process of mail-ordering conducted previously. But OpenBazaar wants to be what the average e-commerce site isn’t — and can’t be without jettisoning its anchor to the current tech. The new marketplace allows people to trade one-on-one, without middlemen. That means no fees. And no clear-cut avenues for censorship.

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Interview With OpenBazaar Operations Lead: Sam Patterson

The team, most of which haven’t met each other in person, released the beta 1.0 on the first of September and plans to release new updates every month. CryptoCoinsNews interviewed Sam Patterson, operations lead at OpenBazaar, to learn more about the highly-anticipated digital marketplace.

What motivated the team to start this project? For the OpenBazaar developers, has the urge to build an irrepressible online market been around for a while? Or did the idea develop recently?

Different team members may have different specific motivations, but the general idea of creating a decentralized market has been important to us all. We’ve all been involved in the bitcoin movement for a while, and felt that our decentralized and censorship-resistant money needed a a decentralized and censorship-resistant platform to go with it. Once someone got the effort in gear, we decided it was time to make this happen for real.

The DarkMarket creators laid the groundwork with a proof-of-concept for a peer-to-peer marketplace. Would OpenBazaar exist without these foundations?

OpenBazaar wouldn’t exist without DarkMarket. I’m sure that decentralized markets would exist one day if DarkMarket or OpenBazaar weren’t the ones to get the ball rolling, the concept is too powerful to be ignored. But someone had to take the first step, and we’re grateful that Amir and his group did that.

Some describe OpenBazaar as a next-generation Silk Road, but OpenBazaar hopes to expand the horizons for Bitcoin-based online markets. What are some good reasons to suspect it will be used for items other then drugs?

Several reasons, but the simplest is that it already is! My kids were just enjoying some honey that I purchased from a beekeeper in Ohio using OpenBazaar. Neither of us paid any fees, and of course we used our preferred currency, bitcoin. It was a great experience; why would this only be used for drugs? The Bitcoin community doesn’t have a good place to buy and sell their goods – using bitcoin – without mandatory fees. To claim that free online markets will only be used for drugs sounds to me like the claim that bitcoin itself is only used for drugs, since you’ve got PayPal and credits cards for everything else. Of course we know that’s a ridiculous argument, and I think after the OpenBazaar network becomes widely used the argument against it will be equally ridiculous.

How does the platform differ from BitXBay and other decentralized trading projects?

Honestly, I don’t know very much about BitXBay. I believe it’s the effort of a single developer, which is worrying because that model isn’t likely to be sustainable. I don’t think even Bitcoin would have succeeded if Satoshi didn’t get more developers on board helping him. That said, we want decentralized markets to exist, welcome the efforts of others, and are happy to collaborate.

It sounds like you’ve covered a lot of ground. Could you summarize some of the main technical achievements so far?

The main technical achievements are the ability to create, sign, and verify Ricardian contracts, distribute them to a network of nodes, and then create, sign, and broadcast multisignature transactions to the parties involved in a transaction. Of course this is all in the back-end, the other main achievement is doing these actions in a way that is user friendly and accessible in the GUI. Also, we’ve implemented a proof-of-burn system we call “reputation pledges” that allows people to prove good faith by burning some bitcoin tied to their OpenBazaar identity, and we’re currently integrating Namecoin ID’s as well.

It is important to remember that this is still early beta and hasn’t been security assessed by professionals yet. It’s open source, but that isn’t a guarantee it’s truly secure. It’s not even close to being finished, so even though we certainly have come a long way, we have a long way yet to go.

Any funny development stories?

Brian Hoffman and I thought we were going to complete the first transaction on the network each night for close to three weeks before we actually succeeded. Every time we’d try, a new issue popped up. We’d been expecting that first transaction for so long, that by the time it finally worked correctly it was very anticlimactic!

We’ve got a great team of guys working on this, and we’ve had a lot of fun together over the past few months. We all have different backgrounds too, and different areas of expertise: academic, regulatory, BitTorrent, business, the team is very diverse in our knowledge, and our locations. Other than Brian and I, none of the team members have met each other in person yet, so we’re looking forward to being able to get together at some point in the future if OpenBazaar does succeed.

Are there any significant hurdles you expect to deal with, or are currently dealing with, before the public release?

In some ways, there’s a simplicity to what we’re trying to do – allow people to publish or find products or services on a peer to peer network, and use multisig to make sure the trade occurs fairly. However, once you start having people use the platform, you realize just how difficult it is to create a product that can compete with existing ecommerce sites. As of Sept. 9th, on our Github we’ve had more than 500 issues and pull requests opened over the 5-month history of the project; more than 200 of those have come in the last ten days since we opened beta. The amount of community interest and feedback has been amazing, and overwhelming! There are many hurdles on our path, but if the community continues to support us and let us know what they need, we’re confident we’ll deliver.

OpenBazaar is a huge project and many are buzzing about a variety aspects. I’m sure I missed something. Is there anything else you’d like to add?

We are releasing new beta versions at the end of each month. If you haven’t tried out OpenBazaar yet, please read through this guide to see if you should give it a try, and if not, then be patient and considering helping us test out a later version. After releasing several betas, when we feel like we’ve got a stable and useful platform, we’ll publish the first full release.

It’s worth mentioning that the first full release is just the start. We have Dr. Washington Sanchez heading up the OpenBazaar Labs, which is our effort to be intentional about expanding the use cases and applications for OpenBazaar beyond an ecommerce platform. As long as there is demand from the community, we’ll keep working on this.

Images from Shutterstock.

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@AlyssaHertig

Alyssa earn a B.A. in history from the University of Minnesota. She's written for Motherboard, Reason, and PolicyMic. Get in touch on Twitter: @AlyssaHertig