Too few bitcoin exchanges? Roll your own, says Bex.io

NEWS
Danny Bradbury
May 16, 2013 at 19:34 UTC  |  Updated  Jul 4, 2013 at 17:13 UTC

If you're worried about the centralization of bitcoin exchanges, you might soon be able to start your own for a couple hundred dollars.

Three Vancouver-based entrepreneurs are hoping to solve bitcoin's exchange centralization problem with a cloud-based exchange service. Bex.io, they say, will let anyone create his or her own bitcoin exchange.

Started by bitcoin fan Jesse Heaslip -- along with programmers Ilya Khlopotov and Yurii Rashkovskii -- the service will charge customers a flat rate to launch their own bitcoin exchanges, and will also take a percentage of each transaction handled by each exchange. Bex.Io provides all of the back-end technology, including hosting and software, explains Heaslip.

Currently, bitcoin exchanges are highly centralized. Japan-based Mt. Gox handles roughly 80 percent of bitcoin transactions in US dollars, leaving a small and unpredictable market for independent bitcoin exchanges.

Earlier this year, a research study by computer scientists Tyler Moore and Nicholas Christin found that, of 40 bitcoin exchanges, 18 went out of business ... 13 of which closed without any warning. More exchanges have closed since that paper was written in January. And the recent Department of Homeland Security action against Mt. Gox makes the exchange business look even shakier.

"There's a big problem inside bitcoin in terms of trust and getting the last mile in and out," says Heaslip. "If you have a localized version of (something like) Mt. Gox then you are able to build that trust locally."

For example, Heaslip says, if he were going to buy bitcoins, he would want an exchange with offices and people based in Vancouver, so he could pay the company a visit if anything went wrong.

Bex.io's pricing is designed to reward high-volume sites, according to Heaslip. It is handled on a per-client basis, but works on a sliding scale ... so the more coins an exchange moves, the lower the pricing.

A professional account offers 24/7 customer support, and cross-exchange filling. This means that trading volumes can be supplemented with bitcoins from other exchanges in the event of a spike in demand.

Heaslip says Bex.io's strengths will include security and performance. The system will operate with datasets held completely in-memory, which will speed up transactions, he says. The system has also been written from the ground up in ERLANG, a language developed by Ericsson that targets distributed systems. It is also based on a NoSQL database, designed for high-concurrency, "big data" operations.

The company is paying extra attention to security, Heaslip adds, with plans for auditing by a third-party penetration tester. The concurrency element could also be a saving grace here. One of the biggest attack vectors for bitcoin exchanges is distributed denial of service (DDoS). Attackers like these because they can be used to manipulate values in the bitcoin markets, leading to quick profits. Bex.io will be distributed among several hosting companies worldwide to increase performance by managing transaction processing closer to the customer base. If done right, this distributed operation could also help to reduce denial of service issues, according to Heaslip.

But Bex.io's biggest challenges could lie with regulation and customer reliability. Simply having someone host an exchange at a local address doesn't guarantee its survival, and the Moore/Cristin study shows how unreliable the decentralized market can be.

"Our goal is to be the technology back end," Heaslip says, noting that "(e)very country has their own rules and regulations."

Customer selection could prove to be an important part of maintaining an efficient, reliable ecosystem of exchanges, he adds: "We want to partner with people that have good, established credibility in countries."

While the company is currently offering "limited beta invites" and is set to officially launch by the end of summer, Bex.io is already off to a good start. The company was born after Heaslip and his team were asked to develop a bespoke exchange for a client, and decided to make it a resalable service. It has "close to six figures" in funding from two customers who are eager to see the service flourish.

If this takes off, it will be interesting to see its impact on the exchange world. Using stats from Bitcoin Charts, the Moore/Christin study found that 25 percent of exchanges process -- on average -- fewer than 25 bitcoins each day, compared to Mt. Gox's 40,000 bitcoins daily. Bex.io's innovation could potentially change that dynamic.

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