Ethereum DApp Creators // Issue #11 The Block
You can read that and all the previous issues of Ethereum DApp Creators as well as issues of our Ethereum Contributors Series at https://blog.status.im
This interview series is about the people who work hard to develop decentralized applications on top of Ethereum.
The Block is a decentralized trading platform, focused on eliminating the high fees of traditional e-commerce, while adding privacy and encryption. It’s a global, multilingual marketplace that can charge extremely low fees because it cuts out the middleman and doesn’t need the infrastructure that others rely on. With Ethereum, transactions can be completed in a trustless manner, with no third party involvement. We decided to ask BitBoost, the team behind The Block to tell us more about their platform.
Hello, could you tell us what is BitBoost’s vision for The Block?
Imagine a world without 3rd party payment providers. Imagine a world without their fees, where buyers pay you directly. Now remove chargebacks. Then eliminate the IT staff that maintains your operations. This is the future that the blockchain makes possible.
Our long-term vision is to challenge eBay and to be the go-to app for everybody who wants to sell something on the internet cheaply and easily, without the hassle of creating any account with a marketplace, and without the requirement of an account with a payment processor. In addition to challenging eBay in developed markets, we believe that the fee structure made possible by building on Ethereum will make us more competitive in developing markets.
What kind of background do you have?
My background is actually in databases. I became intrigued by the potential of Bitcoin a few years back, but I didn’t like the energy requirements of mining, and that drew me to NXT, which uses Proof of Stake, leading to very low energy use. I put together a small team to develop a decentralized marketplace on NXT called FreeMarket. The technical limitations of NXT made us look for an alternative, and that is when we found Ethereum. Ethereum meets our needs, and I am happy that it too will eventually move to Proof of Stake.
Do you see The Block disrupting the current online sale industry?
That is certainly our aim. The fact that our app can run without any centralized server farms means that we can charge far, far less than the major e-commerce companies. People sell things online in order to make money, and therefore our low fees will be an attractive feature.
How do you see that The Block will be helping people’s lives?
Trade is one of the greatest forces to lift people out of poverty and enrich their material lives. Anything that encourages trade is a good thing, and while the Internet has magnified the reach of merchants, large e-commerce companies are needlessly limiting trade with their high fees. We are lowering the barriers to trade, and this will help people improve their lives through the power of commerce.
How does The Block benefit from the use of Ethereum?
Ethereum is critical to what we do. Our first product was a decentralized marketplace built on the NXT blockchain, but we quickly ran into obstacles with it due to the lack of smart contracts. Ethereum is made for the type of transactions on which we are building.
What do you think is the most important factor that differentiates The Block from the non-blockchain applications in online commerce?
Other e-commerce companies charge very high fees, including listing fees, image upload fees, escrow fees, and even a percentage of the final selling price. They have to charge these fees because they have to support a global computing infrastructure.
We are different in that Ethereum has permitted us to build a platform that is free of these expenses. We still use and pay for computing resources, but we do it by tapping into the Ethereum blockchain and using the computers of miners, on demand, just when we need them. Our costs are consequently lower, and we can pass those savings to our users in the form of much, much lower fees. A listing on The Block costs $1 in Ether. No percentage of the final selling price, no fees for images, we can keep it simple and inexpensive.
Screenshot of The Block prototype
You will have escrow services on the platform, who will be able to provide these services?
Technically it is possible for anyone with an Ethereum address to act as an arbiter; the escrow function is actually performed by a smart contract. We are exploring ways to attract and promote the most trustworthy arbiters.
The arbitration system itself is designed to be flexible, to meet the needs of as many users as possible. Arbiters may set a fee for being named as the arbiter, even if their services aren’t used, or they may only charge in the cases where they arbitrate. They may charge a set fee, or a percentage of the sale price, and the fee or percentage is up to them. We expect to see a lot of competition based on price, reputation, specialization, language, and other factors we haven’t anticipated.
What sort of customizations will there be available for The Block?
The Block can be customized through the use of themes, of which there are two out of the box at the beginning, the light one and the dark one. We are working to make it possible to build and import your own themes. The Block can also be customized using blacklists, which filter the items that are seen by the user.
Moreover, The Block is available as a native app on all major desktop platforms: Windows, Mac, and Linux. Users can choose between using their own copy of the Ethereum blockchain, or a remote copy maintained by the BitBoost developers. Users can be known to other users by their Ethereum address, or they may choose an easy-to-remember alias.
Are you planning on creating a web version of the platform that doesn’t require a download?
One of our goals is to create a web version of the platform, because we want to make our service as simple and accessible as possible.
You mentioned blacklists earlier, how do the blacklists work? Who will curate them?
The default blacklist will be managed by BitBoost, but we leave it open for anyone to create and curate additional blacklists. Users can, for instance, subscribe to a blacklist that filters out items that are not permitted in their own jurisdiction, but permitted elsewhere. This helps the user be compliant with their local laws, while still using a global app.
There are many reasons why a user may desire a blacklist: religious, political, moral, or just practical, such as excluding sellers from countries that can’t ship to where you live.
And what kind of process will there be to get off a blacklist?
This process will entirely depend on the blacklist curators, but I expect it will be similar to getting unbanned in a forum; make your case that you don’t deserve to be banned, and the curators will decide.
Could The Block benefit from a mobile user interface such as Status?
Everyone uses mobile devices, especially in countries where there was never a strong desktop computing culture. The Block will be a global app, and for that reason, we would like to promote and be part of the mobile space, in order to reach more users and provide easier access to the The Block.
Status could integrate The Block as one of its first applications. This way Status and The Block can mutually foster each other. Status is complemented by an application that is very helpful to its users and The Block is promoted by being bundled into an excellent mobile client.
What do you see as your biggest challenge for The Block moving forward?
Our biggest challenge is not a technical one, but a social one; the app is only useful to sellers to the extent that there are buyers, and buyers want to use a marketplace that has lots of sellers. So our success depends on our ability to bring in a large user base, and to that end we are building a team that is strong in marketing.
And what is the most exciting feature of The Block in your opinion?
There are so many to pick from, but for me it is anonymous image uploading. Protecting your privacy is a central feature of The Block. We don’t charge any additional fees for attaching images to item listings, and we don’t treat image uploads as a chance to track you. All images are uploaded to Imgur.
This may seem like a small feature, and in a way it is, but it is emblematic of our desire to build privacy into the fabric of our product, and that is something I am proud of.
When can people expect to start selling and buying using The Block?
The Block is in beta version right now, and there is a 1-click installer built using Electron for Windows, Mac, and Linux. It has basic functions such as listing, buying, and payment, and there is an automatic escrow thanks to our smart contract.
Our plan is to launch our crowdsale within 4 months to raise the resources we need to build all the remaining features in our roadmap and create a popular and well-stocked marketplace.
What can people in the Ethereum community do to help The Block?
The Block depends on its user base, so the best thing the Ethereum community can do is use it and promote it to users outside the community. When my mom uses The Block to sell things, then I will know we have been a success.
Thank you for the interview, very excited to see your decentralized marketplace come to life!
A Mobile OS, built for Ethereum.