BitcoinDood – Thanks for taking the time to do this interview. I was really excited about getting the opportunity to talk to someone from your organization. This has been a project that I’ve followed for some time now. Could you please take a moment to tell us who you are and your relationship to the OpenBazaar project?
Sam Patterson – I’m Sam Patterson, a co-founder of OB1, the company that develops OpenBazaar.
BitcoinDood – OpenBazaar is a decentralized peer to peer marketplace. Could you explain a little about what that means and how it works?
Sam Patterson – Most online commerce today is done by using centralized marketplaces, owned by huge companies. Those marketplaces take a cut of every transaction, they collect the data of buyers and sellers, and they place restrictions on what can be bought or sold. OpenBazaar is different; it’s a marketplace that isn’t controlled by a company or any central organization. It’s a decentralized marketplace, meaning it’s a collection of people running the software and connecting directly to each other in order to buy and sell. Engaging in trade directly means there are no middleman to charge fees, collect data, or censor transactions.
BitcoinDood – I have to admit, when I first signed on I was almost a little nervous and not really sure what to expect. Thoughts of the darknet filled my head, and I was hoping The Dood wouldn’t end up on yet another Government watch list for just being curious… LOL half kidding… Yet I was really surprised to find a fairly tame marketplace, with very little controversial content if any. OpenBazaar is a marketplace not much different from say Ebay or even Overstock for that matter. I found everything from clothing, bumper stickers, to food products and honey. I don’t know why I expected it to be a little more say “Underground” is this a common misconception of OpenBazaar?
Sam Patterson – OpenBazaar started as a fork of the “Dark Market” hackathon entry in 2014, and many still have a misconception that OpenBazaar is an underground or darknet marketplace. OpenBazaar has always been about making trade free for everyone, not focusing on any type of trade or community. We believe that the benefits of a free and permissionless trade platform are significant and should be available to everyone.
BitcoinDood – So this is another really cool opensource software project.Can you tell us a little about the development, the number of people involved, and how the decision making process works?
Sam Patterson – Since OpenBazaar began in April 2014 it’s been open source and community driven. The number of contributors has fluctuated, but there are several dozen people around the world who have submitted code and hundreds who have tested, opened issues, and submitted bug reports. The majority of the work has been done by the developers working for OB1, the company founded in order to hire dedicated developers to build the platform. Our project leader, Brian Hoffman, has been leading the development since he started the project initially.
BitcoinDood – OpenBazaar bills itself as a decentralized network for peer to peer commerce online.There are no fees and there are no restrictions. Without fees, how does the project fund itself?
Sam Patterson – Originally the project solely consisted of volunteers. Eventually Brian Hoffman, Washington Sanchez and I decided that we wanted to form a company to hire dedicated developers and build OpenBazaar properly. We formed OB1 and obtained venture capital investment. As of the end of 2016 we’ve raised $4 million in venture capital. OB1 will offer value-added services to OpenBazaar users in the future in order to make money, but will never change the software to force users to pay fees.
BitcoinDood – So to go back to my earlier statement about not knowing what to expect the first time I logged on. OpenBazaar encourages an open market without any restrictions yet when I logged onto the client I was surprised to see how tame the listings actually were. Are there any restrictions on what users can post? How does the marketplace maintain such a “wholesome” environment without any restrictions? I was really surprised at how professional, and mainstream the offers I found on your platform were.
Sam Patterson – There are no restrictions on what a user can post. We encourage users to list their items as NSFW if applicable, and in the software there are tools to block other users if they offer items that you don’t like or they are harassing you. Most people just want a platform where they can buy and sell without fees and other restrictions while using Bitcoin, and OpenBazaar is the only place to do that right now.
BitcoinDood – Currently you can only make purchases with bitcoin? Are there any plans to add other cryptocurrencies down the road?
Sam Patterson – In the latest release we added ShapeShift integration, which allows users to spend a variety of cryptocurrencies. Bitcoin is the core currency because it’s the most widely used cryptocurrency and has all the necessary features (such as multisignature transaction).
BitcoinDood – I’ve loved everything about OpenBazaar so far. I have to say though the software wasn’t the easiest to get working. I run an OpenSuse laptop and had to do a bit of tweaking to get it running on my machine, but hey that’s linux, and that’s almost the norm for linux users. I did however try to install the software on a Windows10 PC at work and to my surprise also ran into some difficulties with the install. When I did a google search I discovered I wasn’t the only one. Is there an effort underway to make the install process a little easier? Granted once the client is installed and running it certainly is worth the effort.
Sam Patterson – Getting peer-to-peer software to install and connect correctly across all operating systems and network configurations has proven difficult. We’ve tried to make the process simpler and more reliable, but we’re aware it doesn’t work properly for all users. Fortunately, the 2.0 version of the software (to be released this year) makes substantial improvements in installation and reliability. Our community is very helpful and if you have a problem, feel free to join our Slack group and ask for help.
BitcoinDood – From what I gather, vendors are kept honest through the use of moderators. Could you explain a little how the moderation system works? Can anyone become a moderator and are the moderators rewarded in some way?
Sam Patterson – Moderators are a third party that both buyer and seller agree to in order to use an escrow system. Using 2-of-3 multisig all three parties have a key to the funds, but two of those parties must agree in order for the funds to be released. Normally the buyer and seller agree and they release the funds when the transaction is completed, but if there is a dispute then the moderator is notified. They talk to the parties and determine how to resolve the dispute, then join with the winning party to release funds to them. Anyone can become a moderator; it’s an open marketplace. Moderators are rewarded by receiving a percentage of the overall transaction when they resolve a dispute.
BitcoinDood – Thank you so much for your time in answering these questions. Is there anything you want to add, or any special news you would like to share that hasn’t already been covered?
Sam Patterson – OpenBazaar costs nothing to try out so we encourage anyone interested in Bitcoin or decentralized technologies to test it out and let us know what they think. The 2.0 version of the software is being built on IPFS, which will allow stores to be visible even when they are offline, and includes many other major improvements. To follow along with the development of the software, check out our blog.
Bloggers note: IPFS stands for InterPlanetary File System A peer-to-peer hypermedia protocol. TechCrunch wrote an interesting article about it here.
BitcoinDood – I ask all my interviews the same last question. Could you share any thoughts or predictions of where you see bitcoin and cryptocurrency going in the future? If I handed you a working crystal ball, what do you think we would see?
Sam Patterson – Permissionless money and permissionless trade are concepts too powerful to not gain traction over the coming years. In countries with devaluation or demonetization of currency, Bitcoin will become an increasingly popular alternative, leading to the adoption of platforms such as OpenBazaar to facilitate use of the currency. Even in countries with stable currencies we’ll see more use of Bitcoin and OpenBazaar because of the increasing growth of the digital economy and diminishing importance of where digital workers physically reside.
Thanks to Sam Patterson for taking the time to talk about this truly interesting project. You can find out more about OpenBazaar and download the software on their website:
Special thanks to the OpenBazaar Twitter folks for helping to put this interview together. Much appreciated! Thanks also to Sam Patterson for sharing the OpenBazaar story with me and my readers. Your time is greatly appreciated.