Back in April 2014, DarkMarket, a decentralized anonymous marketplace with a name guaranteed to fuel the nightmares of conservatives everywhere, was forked and given a more widely acceptable title.
The resulting, friendlier-sounding, OpenBazaar, was a fully functional, free to use, peer-to-peer (P2P) market platform with robust decentralized infrastructure that enabled commercial activities to be conducted outside the control of third parties.
If that sounded like a formula for another illicit drugs marketplace such as the notorious Silk Road, the project lead Brian Hoffman stressed that that wasn’t the aim.
Speaking to CoinDesk in June of that year, Hoffman spelled out the central value proposition for OpenBazaar as being the freedom of two parties to transact without needing to rely on the security and integrity of a questionable centralized service, adding that the team behind the project will push for lawful uses of its service.
A redesigned and improved OpenBazaar launched in test mode on 2nd March. The test period during which the site only accepts "testnet bitcoin," which has no value, is intended to help the developers identify as many bugs as possible, with as little risk as possible.
The project's test version has been downloaded more than 19,593 times and early vendors are up sporadically, with service to the site itself still being rather spotty.
OpenBazaar co-founder Sam Patterson told CoinDesk the market has released four new versions based on lessons learned from the tests and expect at least one more before the final launch in "the next few weeks."
Not willing to wait for the release of a field-tested version of the software, a "handful of eager users" downloaded and ran the "mainnet version" of OpenBazaar at their own risk, according to this Reddit post, which Patterson verified.
On 3rd March, the first OpenBazaar transaction for three "SuperBitcoiner" keychains was conducted between Shayan Eskandari, a blockchain software engineer at BitAccess and Tyler Smith, author of the Reddit post. Shortly thereafter Smith made two more purchases: two sets of two OpenBazaar pins from Patterson and a single can of Red Bull from the other co-founder, Brian Hoffman.
While the potential for illicit sales on OpenBazaar has led to widespread coverage even before its launch, a closer look at what’s actually on the site — besides keychains and Red Bull — reveals a decidedly mild list of offerings, which perhaps shouldn’t be a surprise.
“We anticipate trade on OpenBazaar will reflect society in general,” Patterson told CoinDesk. “Only a small portion of people do morally or legally questionable trade, and that fact shouldn't prevent the vast majority of uncontroversial trade from being allowed to happen.”
Curious to see what the project's earliest vendors are up to? Below are some the ways in which users have already begun standing up digital storefronts using OpenBazaar.
If you dream of the silver screen and fancy adopting the glamour of the time, the Vintage Fashion store provides a host of dresses, swimwear and more that will have people stopping you in the street and asking for autographs.
The store even sells tweeds, vests and more for the stylish gents out there.
All prices are currently set to 0.0100 BTC while the marketplace is in test mode, but expect those to change once it goes fully live.
Bitcoin Full Node from Europe
Offering well-meaning bitcoin advocates a way to support the network, this ‘store’ is selling bitcoin node hosting as a service.
It provides a full node, running Bitcoin Core, from servers located in Eastern European countries.
Three different plans are currently on offer, providing either 1, 3 or 6 months of uptime, at prices ranging from 0.0359 BTC to 0.1029 BTC.
Within 24 hours of purchase, the seller says, purchasers will be provided with a dedicated full node IP address and a second page where statistics can be monitored.
Jacob Ian Long, Esq. (Moderator)
Some of the more unusual products currently available on OpenBazaar are the services of a moderator.
There are two kinds of fees ways to pay a vendor on the platform. The first, direct payment, could be considered risky unless the buyer knows and trusts the seller. As with all bitcoin transactions, there are no charge-backs for products or services not rendered.
The other payment option is called Moderated Payment, where the buyer sends the bitcoin purchase amount into an escrow account and the funds are later released when the transaction is completed.
The moderator doesn’t do anything for successful transactions. In the instance of a dispute the moderator decides which side is at fault and decides whether or not to release the funds. For the services, the moderator is compensated with a fee.
Both vendors and moderators are subject to a reputation grade that over time can achieve a value of its own.
When a moderator first joins, OpenBazaar predicts he or she will leverage their reputation in real life to help gain trust, as it appears is the case with the above lawyer. Incidentally, in addition to being a moderator, this profile, which purports to be that of a licensed Florida attorney, sells educational materials for 0.0024 BTC.
Not surprisingly, a fair amount of bitcoin services are available via the OpenBazaar platform, including one vendor selling products from bitcoin hardware startup Ledger.
Other cryptocurrency-related vendors offer to sell other virtual currencies — including Litecoin and Dash — in exchange for bitcoin.
For the hipster shopper with an occasionally economic bent, this store, which identifies as being based in the United States, sells screen printed t-shirts for 0.0239 BTC.
There's a notable contingent of what appears to be squatters on the site. These are more sophisticated vendors than your typical generic avatar profiles with no content, but for whatever reason, don't yet have any offerings.
One good example is BazaarGaurd, described as a "moderation and buyer safety guide," which has a OneName verified account, a Twitter account, a GitHub account and an email address, but under services there's nothing more than a note explaining : "More information soon."
In an email to CoinDesk, one of the site's organizers confirmed he is preparing a "dispute guide for market-goers" in advance of the market's formal launch. With nine people already following the account its easy to imagine the potential benefits of being an early adopter at OpenBazaar, assuming it takes off.
Images via OpenBazaar