A new era for eCommerce

OpenBazaar went live a short time ago. Even if it still has some rough edges, it offers the best user experience ever for buying or selling something on the internet.

I installed the earlier beta versions last year with great interest. But the developers decided that the core of it was not good enough, and started over from scratch. It still looks somewhat similar on the user interface side. But by looking at the sources and architecture, you can clearly see the difference. The old version was easy to run directly from the sources. The new one uses too much stuff that I’m not familiar with, so that I have to rely on the deb package. This in turn works flawlessly. The only thing that’s missing is a repo, so it would upgrade automatically.

Enough about the technicalities, let me describe what it’s all about. It simply is the easiest and most convenient way to buy or sell something online. No annoying insecure logins, no expensive or slow payments, no complicated shop to set up, just plain and simple.

After you installed the desktop client, you set up your profile which will take five minutes, is very simple, and has to be done only once.

Then you have the option of setting up a store. That is even easier than configuring your profile. Adding an item takes about a third of the time it would on ebay.

If you want to buy something, you can either browse through the listings, or search by tag. When you found what you want, you click on it for closer inspection. If you want to buy it, click the buy button. And that is where the real magic starts. Payments are in BitCoin (the magic internet money), that has arbitration built right into the protocol. You can either send the funds directly, or select an arbitrator from a list. Central services like ebay have only one arbiter service, and from what I read on the internet they are usually not that interested in finding a good solution. In contrast, here you can select from a list of moderators. The moderators can set their fees individually, and build a reputation. Thus a healthy competition among them should arise.

Ok, you selected a moderator, and the delivery address from your profile. After you confirm, you are presented with the familiar qr code that you scan with your mobile BitCoin wallet, or click the link to pay with a desktop wallet. In doing so, you send the coins to a multisig address. That is like a blocking account, but it was set up fully automatically, individually for every trade, and without fees. Once you confirm that you received the goods and are satisfied with them, you akknowledge it. The funds are then immediately released to the merchant.

Should something go wrong, you open a dispute, and the selected moderator will try to find a solution that all parties involved can agree upon. He might ask for a video of the unboxing, tracking information or whatever could help in resolving the dispute.

Now lets look at the merchant side. Up until now what you had to do if you wanted to open a small store on the web involved : buying a domain name, buying web hosting, setting up a website with a store, get a merchant account at a bank and a card processor … way too complicated!

All you have to do with OpenBazaar is checking a box in the settings, and start listing your items.

As it is fully decentralized, there is no central authority that could censor. This is great in many respects, but it could also be annoying if you get to see offers that you rather wouldn’t want to even know about. Early on people speculated if it would become the successor of the silk road. I also was worried that this aspect could ruin the great platform for the rest of us. But the developers came up with a brilliant plan: The nodes talk to each other over UDP. While it caused some headaches for NAT traversal, it can’t be routed through TOR. Hence it is easy to get at the real IP address, and if really bad stuff is involved, the police can ask the ISP for the client’s name and address. I truly hope this is enough to keep the platform clean. There were some reports of drugs listed on the first few days. I don’t know if it was for real, but everyone seems to agree, that this is a stupid idea.

If you did not install OpenBazaar yet, you can still browse the listings at : http://bazaarbay.org/

For example, my store is at : http://bazaarbay.org/@ulrichard