Many Bitcoin developers and investors, including some the most powerful Venture Capitalists of our day, have stated that Bitcoin's long-awaited "killer app" could be a decentralized marketplace that uses Bitcoin.
Open Bazaar may well be that marketplace, a peer to peer network that isn't controlled by any company or organization. Instead of visiting a website, you download and install a program on your computer that directly connects you to other people looking to buy and sell goods and services, and the only payment option is bitcoin. Earlier this year Union Square Ventures and Andreessen Horowitz gave the Open Bazaar developers US$1 million in funding.
"Bitcoin finally finds a killer app with the emergence of Open Bazaar protocol powered zero take rate marketplaces."
- Fred Wilson, Union Square Ventures Partner
There are others often argue that bitcoin already has a killer app, its use as money - a peer to peer electronic cash system. It seems to make a lot of sense for a marketplace to be the most popular or important application for money that is built on the same principals. After all, there are two sides to every transaction; the buyer gives money, and the seller gives the goods. Bitcoin simply hasn't had an adequate place to give users the goods yet, at least not one that delivers on the same promises of decentralization and openness demonstrated in bitcoin.
As we enter the final few weeks of waiting for a fully-working Open Bazaar client, it's obvious that many share Wilson's enthusiasm, and even volunteer their time and skills to help out with the project. The busy Open Bazaar Reddit page has over 3,800 subscribers, and the always-active Slack room for the community is packed with about 1,200 users on their 41 channels, each of which is a topic-specific, skype-like chat room. It would be very hard to find a more active community dedicated to a single new, open-source software.
The launch date still hasn't been nailed down yet, but the latest estimation from developers on the project is sometime during January. There is already a fully-working Debian Linux beta client available from the team within the slack community, although it isn't easy to install, and comes with no support.
At least we can now be fairly sure what Open Bazaar will look like. Once installed, it asks you to pick a username and fill out your user profile, where most information is optional and can be used pseudonymously. Afterward, you have a button that takes you to build your store if you'd like to make one, but you can stay just a shopper if that's all you came to do. Here's what my store looked like after only adding a custom banner to the top, and one test item:
Your store is where you will always land when first opening the client, although getting out of it and going to shop at other people's stores is as simple as clicking that little eye button to the right of the address field at the top of the page.
One of the most appealing parts of Open Bazaar, besides the non-existent fees and global access, is the nearly infinite customization available to these storefronts. By clicking the "Customize" button, that is visible when you visit your store, it immediately allows you change your header graphic and edit any of the page colors. You can take customizations even further in your profile, by choosing whole themes and changing your avatar.
The snappy back-end of each store allows you to sell all kinds of items, even non-physical items like digital goods and services. It gives you places to enter addresses for shipping purposes, including all manner of listing information, pictures, tags, and a description you can add to each listing. It also allows you to create specific sale terms and policies for each item. The process of filling out one of these listings is far easier and faster than similar processes on eBay or Amazon
There are also several ways store owners can keep in touch with customers, for sales enquiries and support, including a handy, fully-encrypted chat channel - built into the storefront by default.
One useful option that will not be available at launch, however, is the ability to sell things at auction. This makes Open Bazaar more like an Amazon listing than an Ebay auction, at least for now. The Open Bazaar development team does have plans to add auction functionality to these stores, and perhaps even crowdfunding functionality as well.
There are a few more tabs on the front page of the store that make it feel and operate more like a facebook wall than an Amazon page.
Under the "About" tab, there is room for a store description plus a bunch of contact and identification links that you'd like to give. Among them is your unique Open Bazaar ID (GUID), your email address, a website link, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and even a place for your PGP key. All optional, of course.
The "Followers" tab lists all of the users that follow your store's product feed, much like how twitter lists your followers. Naturally, the "Following" tab operates the same way, but for feeds you have chosen to follow. If you click on any one of the people listed on either page you'll go directly to their user profile page.
At the extreme right side of the window, there is a communications bar that holds your messages, and lets you search through them for users or keywords. Above that, your small avatar in the top-right corner unfolds into your main menu, which gives you options for all kinds of settings, customizations, reports, and your admin panel - which is the most technical page in Open Bazaar, and includes your network settings and other important switches to keep the program running smoothly.
The little bell button to the left of your main menu button is to display any notifications you've received, such as to tell you the sales you've made or messages that are waiting on you.
Finally, the main address field in the middle may make the Open Bazaar application look like a web browser, but it doesn't accept URLs nor anything starting with http:// in the field - it reads only other Open Bazaar user names or store names to jump directly to them without searching. This will be especially useful when placing your GUID or handle on business cards and websites so that you can let people know how to find your store on Open Bazaar.
Although this may not be the final version of the software, it is sure to be close enough for future Open Bazaar users to take note of their new environment and what they’ll need to settle in. Choosing an appropriate header graphic for a storefront may make all the difference in sales for those who open stores there. Meanwhile, picking a great avatar is something that all users will want to do.
The end goal appears to be for Open Bazaar to become the very best place for anyone to sell anything online, period. After playing around with it for an hour or two, it is easy to see it achieving that goal in the not-too-distant future. Be sure to watch either the Slack or Reddit communities for updates on the actual launch date.