What is it?
OpenBazaar is best described as, well, an open bazaar. The project, which launched its first iteration in April 2016, brings to life every crypto-anarchist’s dream: a truly decentralised marketplace. OpenBazaar itself is built upon the InterPlanetary File System (a revolutionary project in its own right), making use of a peer-to-peer network for the distribution of data. So while it may look like eBay on the surface, it is probably more accurate to think of it as BitTorrent for both digital and physical goods.
The team were kind enough to answer several questions sent their way by Crypto Insider.
It has been their vision throughout development to eliminate middlemen in online commerce, as well as to provide a “secure, private and liberating marketplace”. They favor the peer-to-peer approach over a blockchain-based system (à la Blockmarket) for ease of scalability as the platform gains traction and evolves. While their main focus currently is to implement more cryptocurrencies, they mention the possibilities down the line of incorporating an identity verification system such as Blockstack for added security.
I also reached out to two different vendors on the platform to get some insight on why they chose to use OpenBazaar. Jason Ellis, of Lost Pines Yaupon Tea, mentions the ease of use as a reason for setting up on the platform: already established on the web, OpenBazaar is not the main source of revenue for the company, but it provides a complementary income at no cost, and advertises the company to a wider audience. Vlad, at Extra Pharma, echoed some of Jason’s thoughts on the use of cryptocurrency − both vendors choose to keep their earnings in crypto, and enjoy watching the value accrue over time.
The real beauty of the platform is the invincible status afforded by the decentralized architecture: there is no Ulbricht to take down, no middlemen, and no fees. With no support for credit/debit cards, OpenBazaar ensures that no third-party is able to reverse payments or withhold funds. To mitigate the risk of fraud, it allows for the parties in a trade to appoint a moderator − offering escrow through the use of multisig transactions. There are already a number of these moderators offering their services in OpenBazaar’s 2.0 beta.
Building on top of the original OpenBazaar, the second version now allows for stores to be viewed, even when the seller is offline. It has also incorporated the option of running the software through TOR, a decision that will no doubt be met with mixed feelings: as you may know, the FBI make no distinction between privacy-concerned citizens and criminals, so it’s safe to assume that this is going to cause some headaches in Washington. Unlike traditional darknet markets, if the drug trade migrates to OpenBazaar, it isn’t as simple as seizing the Silk Road and shutting it down, as law enforcement will now have to go after individual stores.
Thus far, it doesn’t seem as though narcotics have overrun the market − there’s certainly no shortage of pharmaceuticals available, but these are dispersed between listings for Pokemon cards, computer parts, books and Etsy-type crafts. It does seem that a trustless system is appealing to many when it comes to e-commerce. Although cryptocurrency markets are often susceptible to exit scams in a centralized model, OpenBazaar’s infrastructure leaves users in control of their private keys, which also has the benefit of making large-scale data breaches a practical impossibility.
The only real challenge facing OpenBazaar at this point is that of adoption − if you download the beta and browse the various listings, you’ll notice the lack of reviews for the majority of stores (which will perhaps dissuade early users from purchases). There will be something of a learning curve as more transactions take place, but once mediators become established and build up reputation, scams should be few and far between.
Regardless of whether OpenBazaar 2.0 catches on or not, it is a testament to what is achievable, and a remarkable proof-of-concept. The team have worked tirelessly on improving what was originally an entry in a hackathon into a fully-fledged cypherpunk utopia, and show no signs of slowing down. Within a year, they intend on bringing to life a mobile iteration of OpenBazaar 2.0, automated delivery of digital goods, and a range of supported cryptocurrencies. The project stands out as a forerunner in the shift towards Web 3.0 − and best of all, it doesn’t require a stake in yet another useless token to operate.