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3 Web Giants That Could Be Decentralized on a Blockchain

The web has taken over our lives, and with that, online enterprises have grown into huge monoliths of power.

Yet, while tech giants give us access to the stuff we like – music, movies, shopping – blockchain enthusiasts think an individual’s web experience could be greatly improved by decentralization.

If the web’s giants decentralize, the web itself will become a wildly different place – it’s hard to even wrap your head around, just like it would have been impossible to imagine meme culture in 1999.

Today, a site and its database are one entity. In the decentralized version, the database doesn’t belong to its creators; it belongs to its community, and that community can build lots of different business models on top of the database.

Think of it like this: if the web had been decentralized from the beginning, you could have made your first social media profile on Friendster in 2003. Then, when MySpace came along, you wouldn’t need to create a new profile, you’d just give MySpace permission to access the one you had already made for Friendster. Same thing for Facebook.

Obviously, each new site would add new features and ways of interacting, but users would have never needed to start over, lose friends from other sites or the content they’d created on prior platforms.

Are those advantages strong enough to upend the Dot-Com era’s familiar incumbents?

Entrepreneurs and the various investors who have committed capital – whether that be in the form of traditional venture capital, or perhaps more common in the space today, through initial coin offerings (ICOs) – have made their bets that it is.

And with ICOs providing not only a new fundraising mechanism for these blockchain startups, but also a tool for users to interact with these new distributed networks, the underlying infrastructure for a new internet – a “web 3.0” – is growing.

Below are three verticals on the web that blockchain startups are aiming to take market share from through the use of crypto tokens.

Eliminating eBay?

eBay logo image via Shutterstock

While eBay is an internet O.G., in the early days of the web, there were also other sites built around specific products, such as comic books, where sellers sold directly to buyers.

One might imagine that focused marketplaces would naturally provide a better customer experience, but eBay, which offered an array of different products, proved that wrong. It turned out that it was better to sell comic books on the site that also sold bicycle parts, because someone might come looking for one and end up buying both. On top of that, it was just easier to remember one site for buying used stuff, rather than many.

While there’s nothing stopping a seller from offering one product on both a specialized site and a general site, such as eBay, it would take sophisticated software to make sure the same item didn’t get sold twice, and eBay doesn’t want to make that kind of thing easy.

But what if consumers could have both? What if the comic books, for example, lived in the same database as the all the other products, but different websites could be built around that data? In that way, a listing could show up in a variety of marketplaces, but if one listing sold on any one marketplace, it would show as sold on all of them.

That’s possible, according to Gee Chuang, the CEO of Listia, an existing marketplace that’s developing a decentralized version of eBay called Ink Protocol:

“Ink Protocol’s vision is to decentralize peer-to-peer marketplaces, taking the power away from the companies that run them and giving it back to the buyers and sellers. As a result, more value is distributed back to the actual user.”

In an effort to create this system, Listia plans to sell $15 million worth of crypto tokens, starting on Jan. 29. Listia will also seed early users of its existing marketplace, where people already earn Listia credits for trading items peer-to-peer, with the token. Listia credits will convert into the crypto tokens as the blockchain network launches.

It’s a similar goal to OB1’s OpenBazaar, one of the longest-running and most popular decentralized marketplaces, except that OB1 is also focused on making it easier for users to transact anonymously, and has only used bitcoin for transacting. Yet, that could soon change, as OB1’s CEO Brian Hoffman announced at Token Summit II recently that that company would be pursuing a token offering in response to increased congestion on the bitcoin network.

Speaking to the benefits of a decentralized marketplace, Listia’s Chuang said, “Sellers in decentralized marketplaces have the freedom to use any platform they like at any time, while bringing that hard-earned reputation with them everywhere they go.”

Move over YouTube

YouTube on a laptopYouTube image via Shutterstock

YouTube is the number one place in the world to share and search for video.

While the site has created a new career path for content creators, the tensions between those creators and its central administrators have become heated.

Content creators suffer as YouTube decreases its revenue share with video makers and uses automation to pull advertisements from their videos if they suspect the video displays offensive or inappropriate behavior, catching some suitable videos in its wide net. Consumers, meanwhile, complain that advertisements are becoming too prevalent on the site in general.

A new generation of startups believes decentralizing their platforms will allow content creators to interact directly with their audiences with the use of a crypto token. At the same time, users will get more choice in how their attention can be monetized – they can view ads, release personal information or even contribute part of their computing power to the operation of the system.

“Bittorrent — with more than 250 million users worldwide — has been already proven to be capable of delivering good quality content in a decentralized and compelling manner,” said Adrian Garelik, CEO of Flixxo, a decentralized video sharing platform that closed its token sale in November.

Released in 2001, Bittorrent works by connecting users to copies of content held on other people’s devices, rather than a centralized server system. And Garelik envisions making the torrent network more robust by giving people more incentive to host content by earning cryptocurrency.

“By creating this incentivized network, any kind of content could be distributed in a peer-to-peer fashion, with a lot of monetization possibilities,” Garelik said.

According to Flixxo creators, users of peer-to-peer file sharing platforms have been in need of an effective peer-to-peer payment system to make the platforms more useful. And that seems to be a thought shared by a number of blockchain-based startups looking to decentralize file sharing, including Stream, Theta and Livepeer, each that has its own token.

And that’s not all of them. In fact, there are handfuls of players at each level of the online video stack.

As explained by another decentralized video company Paratii in a blog post:

“What we see forming is not a single pyramidal stack, where the choice of one piece of tech inevitably ‘disables’ another. Rather, what we have are protocol silos, with more or less interoperable layers.”

Disrupting Apple Music

iTunes gift cards image via Shutterstock

It’s possibly taken years to purchase and download all that music that gets your heart racing when you’re at the gym or mellows you out after a long day of work – the perfect soundtrack to your life.

And just as special as all that is to you, those tastes are just as important to the companies that control the online music marketplaces where you get that music. That’s because, as users participate in marketplaces like Apple Music, they build up their own intellectual property by creating playlists, following artists and flagging their favorite songs.

And that data is lucrative for the marketplaces to track and control, so much so that they make it difficult to move those preferences to another service.

According to Jesse Grushack from Consensys’s Ujo, a blockchain-based music supply chain provider:

“We are being locked into these systems controlled by corporate giants.”

And many startups, not just Ujo, agree. A handful of blockchain-based companies have started up looking to disrupt various layers of the music industry, including Viberate, which looks to eliminate the need for musicians’ rent-seeking agents with smart contracts.

Even more mainstream names are seeing potential benefits in adopting blockchain and cryptocurrency in the music biz. Icelandic singer Bjork announced in November that she’d be accepting four different cryptocurrencies for her forthcoming album, and a former Universal Music Group executive raised $1.2 million in October for a music-rights management platform called Blokur that uses the ethereum blockchain.

While many of these platforms haven’t announced crypto token sales, Grushack admitted that Ujo might issue a token down the road.

Currently, though, the company is focused on the concept of a “portable fan badge” – a token-like instrument that ties identity and data together – so that as a fan, you could port what musicians, songs and genres you like across all different kinds of music marketplaces. In this way, Grushack said, the musician would really know a person is a fan, and could then market them new content directly.

And not only that, but the portal is designed to make it easier for any number of parties to share rights, for example of one song, where each musician that participated gets paid out based on the work they put in. While this is technically possible today, the process would require a significant number of intermediaries who would all want to take a cut, making it worthless for artists today.

“Right now Apple is in the process of phasing out purchases for music, so that leaves us in a scenario where everything we consume is in a rental model,” Grushack said, adding:

“If we did transition back into a system in which we bought music, being able to own that music and relationship regardless of the platform is something blockchain enables.”

Disclosure: CoinDesk is a subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which has an ownership stake in Blokur, Livepeer and OB1.

Fiber optics image via Shutterstock

The leader in blockchain news, CoinDesk is an independent media outlet that strives for the highest journalistic standards and abides by a strict set of editorial policies. Interested in offering your expertise or insights to our reporting? Contact us at news@coindesk.com.

Disclaimer: This article should not be taken as, and is not intended to provide, investment advice. Please conduct your own thorough research before investing in any cryptocurrency.

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Ancora: Should You Invest in a Limited Edition Bitcoin Fountain Pen?

Alongside your investments in stocks, gold and Bitcoin, have you considered adding a writing instrument to your investment portfolio? While Italian pen-maker Ancora and digital moneymaker Bitcoin may seem to have little in common, the value of both assets is based on the economic concept of scarcity. Both the pen-maker and the digital moneymaker produce a limited stock (only 21 mln Bitcoins will be minted). The scarcer an asset, the higher its demand, and as demand increases so should its value.

Ancora has well understood the concept of scarcity since its inception in 1919 along Lake Maggiore in Italy. The maker of fountain pens and ballpoint pens produces its fine pens in limited editions.
Its latest special edition pen is the Bitcoinpen. If you are considering investing in one of Ancora’s 88 Bitcoin fountain pens or 888 Bitcoin rollerball pens, here are five reasons why fountain pens are an attractive investment.

Typically produced with gold and other precious materials, like gold, fountain pens can act as a safe haven investment. In addition to the quality of materials, investors value these fine writing instruments based on their rarity (limited editions), reputation and design themes.

Rarity

Fine writing instruments are considered luxury collectibles that can retain and appreciate in value. With high sentimental value, fountain pens are passed on to future generations in wills. Those pens not kept as mementos may end up at auction houses as part of estate sales. Auction houses such as Christie’s and Southeby’s regularly have fountain pens for sale under $200, but it is not uncommon for a pen to sell for thousands of dollars.

Rarity is highly valued. The most expensive pens are typically part of special limited editions. One of 20 Ancora The Pulse of Time Square Limited Edition fountain pens is currently selling on eBay for $8,800, a seven-fold increase since the pens were introduced in 2015 and sold for $1,200 a piece. The pen contains mother of pearl, gold and silver.

Precious and novel materials

Unlike many speculative assets, the value of pens may be backed by their materials. Currently among the world’s most expensive pens is a limited edition Boehme Papillon pen by Montblanc with 1,400 diamonds and gold selling for $230,410. A true rarity, a gem-encrusted pen made by Florentine pen-maker Tibalidi recently sold for $8 mln in Shanghai. Rare materials are an increasingly popular feature, with current offerings including rhodium, ruthenium, titanium and Ancora’s Minerals series (e.g., azurite and diopside). Newer designer Romain Jerome is selling a $5,000 pen (88 pieces) made from materials from the doomed Titanic ship.

Status and sentimental value

Fountain pens have timeless appeal. As gifts, many writing instruments are ordered with a  custom monogram to personalize the pen. When the monogram belongs to a famous personality, a pen can become very valuable in the secondary market. Like watches, heritage adds a premium to fountain and ballpoint pens. When the near century-old Ancora went out of business in the 1970s for a decade, its pens became more valuable owing to its enduring reputation as a quality Italian maker of fine fountain pens.

Sustainable value

While fountain pens have benefited from trends, including the vintage trend, long-term sustainable trends are now supporting the growth in sales. The environmentally conscious consumer is buying long-lasting ballpoint and fountain pens in place of disposable pens. Backed by the greening consumer, this trend is expected to remain positive and strong.

Custom pen themes and artist editions

Writing your great novel with the Ancora custom designed Jules Verne pen, your screenplay with the Michelangelo pen or your song lyrics with the Signorelli pen can add inspiration and sentimental value to the writing experience. Fountain pens are commonly designed after famous personalities, including those from the literary, art, entertainment, sports and religious worlds.

As with any investment, researching the market can lead to better investment decisions. Japanese-themed pens of Dunhill-Namiki, for example, have done particularly well. Bonhams.com currently has an Emperor Tanabata theme, inspired by a well-loved folktale, selling for between $45,000 and $65,000. Five pens have been produced. Another Dunhill-Namiki pen signed by artist Shogo recently sold for $225,000—one of a number of 1930s era pens signed by Japanese artists selling at high prices.

Above all, cherished brands hold value in the luxury collectibles market. The Ancora Bitcoinpens can be purchased at half their retail price during the current production stage running from Jan. 5 to Jan. 26. The Bitcoin fountain pens normally retail for $2,500 and the rollerball pen $2,250.

Catherina Leona, Guest Author

Disclaimer. Cointelegraph does not endorse any content or product on this page. While we aim at providing you all important information that we could obtain, readers should do their own research before taking any actions related to the company and carry full responsibility for their decisions, nor this article can be considered as an investment advice.

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Life Savings Stolen from Second-hand Ledger Hardware Wallet

A man’s life savings disappeared from a Ledger brand Nano hardware wallet after Reddit user moodyrocket purchased the wallet second-hand on eBay. The stolen coins amount to over $34,000.

According to posts on Reddit, the seller of the wallet utilized a ‘man in the middle’ attack, inserting his own recovery seed rather than the random seed assigned by the manufacturer. According to the post:

“I have not used my Ledger in a week, today I decide to check the value of my XRP, Litecoin and Dash only to discover that all of them showed up as zero and had been transferred somewhere else yesterday all around the same time at 7:30pm. I am not sure how this is possible as I have not access my Ledger in a week. I do not know what do to as the total value is over £25000, has by currency been stolen or is it something else? I am at a lost here and right now feel so physical sick. Some please help.”

The post shows the extent to which thieves will go to access coin wallets. Ledger’s CEO (user murzika) has offered to help ‘bring the seller to justice’ through legal means.

Need for security

As values of cryptocurrencies continue to increase, the reality of security needs continues to increase. Stories of theft and hacking continue to proliferate. For individual users some additional technology may eventually be required. Vadim Onishchenko, CEO of Blockchain photo security system Selfllery told Cointelegraph:

“We used to ask ourselves: Where is it better to keep your money, at home in a safe or in the bank? None of these options is ever completely safe. Cryptocurrency is no different: the safety issue is very complex, because there are lots of ways to break into accounts, or to force people to give over their holdings. There needs to be a mechanism ensuring complete safety, because the current options are all lacking. A new technology is needed to protect cryptocurrency.”

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Senior VP Says eBay “Seriously Considering” Bitcoin Integration

eBay, the $39 billion e-commerce platform, is seriously considering integrating Bitcoin into its platform as a payment method. In an interview with Yahoo Finance, eBay Americas senior vice president Scott Cutler stated that eBay is “seriously considering” integrating Bitcoin.

Power of Bitcoin

Throughout the past 12 months, the stock price of Overstock has increased by over 130 percent, triggered by the company’s involvement in various Bitcoin and Blockchain technology ventures. Several major conglomerates such as Japan’s GMO have also experienced a rapid increase in their stock values subsequent to their integration of Bitcoin.

It has become increasingly challenging for large-scale conglomerates and financial service providers to dismiss Bitcoin, because of its exponential increase in value and user base. Currently, the total market valuation of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies exceeds $500 billion. As such, major banks like Goldman Sachs have started taking steps toward embracing the digital currency also, with Goldman agreeing to clear Bitcoin futures on behalf of their clients.

Cutler noted during the interview with Yahoo Finance “we’re not quite there yet.” Despite this, eBay is apparently demonstrating its optimism towards the digital currency. The company is also effectively showing the public that they are following the latest trends in finance.

High merchant fees

According to Bitcoin Fees, a transaction fee predictor on Earn.com, the fastest and cheapest transaction fee is currently 360 satoshis / byte or $13 per transaction. Granted, the transaction fee of Bitcoin depends on the size of the mempool. But, the size of the Bitcoin mempool has consistently remained above 110 million bytes over the past few days.

Moreover, casual users and newcomers will not continuously check the size of the Bitcoin mempool to come up with the optimal satoshis per byte-based fee to pay merchants on eBay. Without sufficient scaling and lower fees, users on eBay will likely not pay for items with a fee of over $10.

Already, Steam has temporarily disabled its integration of Bitcoin due to the increasing complaints about high fees from its clients. The merchant and e-commerce adoption rate of Bitcoin have slumped in regions outside of Japan.

Given the current state of the Bitcoin Blockchain, it is likely that e-commerce platforms like eBay will only integrate Bitcoin once secondary layer solutions are ready for integration, such as Lightning Network. It is important to note that second-layer scaling needs Segregated Witness (SegWit) to operate, and the adoption rate of SegWit remains below 10 percent.

Transaction Percentage

The adoption rate of SegWit could increase by large margins in early 2018, upon the integration of SegWit by Coinbase and Blockchain.info, two of the global market’s largest Bitcoin wallet platforms.

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EBay ponders Bitcoin payments

Bitcoin memorabilia has already flooded the online shopping portals but very few of them actually accept the real thing. On eBay you can buy a Bitcoin collectable gift coin, ‘hodl’ hoodies, and complete crypto currency mining rigs.  You cannot pay for them with crypto yet though.

In an interview with Yahoo Finance this week Scott Cutler, senior vice president of eBay Americas, said that the online retailer is “seriously considering it as these cryptocurrencies become more of a mainstream payment instrument, but we’re not quite there yet.”

He acknowledged that eBay serves as a popular secondary market for crypto currency mining hardware, and third-party sellers have listed thousands of other crypto currency related items.

Very few online retailers currently accept Bitcoin as a payment method but one that did is reaping the rewards. Overstock.com shares are up over than 250% in the last six months, as it rides on the bitcoin mania. It is a pioneer in the crypto currency industry by becoming the first major online retailer to accept Bitcoin payments in early 2014. Newegg is another retailer that sees value in alternative payment methods as it accepted Bitcoin in 2015.

While there are no solid plans for eBay to accept Bitcoin the fact that high level discussions are taking place is a good sign. Retailers are clamoring to get a slice of the action and online payments are one of the biggest platforms to do so. However as yet none of the top players including eBay, Amazon or Alibaba have formally made moves to accept Bitcoin payments.

An app for Coinbase briefly topped the list of Apple’s App Store last week highlighting the ever increasing demand for digital currencies in the online shopping arena. In fact demand has been so great that the Coinbase servers themselves have struggled to stay online during the recent rush.

Bitcoin payments are slowly becoming more common, but are a long way from mainstream acceptance. According to Yahoo Finance mobile payments company Square quietly rolled out the ability to buy and hold bitcoin to a small number of users on its Square Cash app last month.

While Bitcoin maybe in the minds of many at the moment, eBay bosses will be more focused on competing with rivals Amazon as the holiday season approaches. Once the festive dust has settled and New Year hangovers clear crypto currency payments could be back on the table for the world’s major online retailers.

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Amazon Decentralized: How Blockchain Tech Will Transform Online Retail, Networking

One of the most promising among Blockchain technology capabilities is providing more secure and cost-efficient web transactions are now creating a major change of thought among companies and Web users.

The way people use social networking, financial transactions and legal matters online is now at the edge of a major transformation because of Blockchain.

The Smart City concept that tries to incorporate information technology with the way the city assets are being managed already makes use of Blockchain technology. This can be observed in Singapore wherein they sell legitimate properties using Blockchain. The transactions involve the contract, transfer of title and cryptocurrency payment.

Centralization faults

In 1995, Craigslist.org was launched to give people the chance to sell and purchase items online but this platform only connected the buyer and the seller, without providing any means of payment. Moreover, the website became a venue for scammers to sell bogus items.

When Amazon and eBay came, the online retail world received a more secure and convenient way of transacting online. eBay introduced to the public the online bidding method for a product and partnered with PayPal to provide a faster and more convenient way to pay. Amazon, on the other hand, first started with books but they are now catering almost any kind of product you can imagine.

Even if these online marketplaces provided a better way for sellers and buyer to be protected from frauds, there are still loopholes in their systems because they are centralized. For example, once a hacker manages to penetrate the system, everything now becomes under his control.

What Advantages Blockchain Tech

Blockchain benefits

The security over what the centralized systems have is one of the main qualities that Blockchain has. Because Blockchain is decentralized, hackers will need to pass all the “blocks” in the chain before they steal something.

Attackers do not only steal directly from somebody’s account but they can also do it via counterfeit goods. Blockchain has the ability to track down the source of the product easily. This can avoid fake goods from entering the marketplace right away.

Cost-effective

The Blockchain technology is indeed a great way to provide better security to both buyers and sellers. It can prevent and eliminate almost all kinds of attacks known today. Not only that, the cost to be incurred from using Blockchain is totally cheaper but with greater speed and efficiency.

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Tor and More: Bitcoin Market OpenBazaar Adds Features in 2.0 Beta Release

The team behind the open-source, bitcoin-powered marketplace OpenBazaar has published the beta version of its forthcoming 2.0 release.

The launch, announced over the weekend, delivers a number of additions that developers outlined back in February. Among those is an integration with The Onion Router (Tor) network, enabling anonymous access to the marketplace network, as well as upgrades intended to boost overall up-times and access to storefronts.

It’s a major development for the project, which seeks to decentralize online retailing in the way way bitcoin decentralized value transfers. Back in February, Brian Hoffman, chief executive of OB1 (the startup behind the project), said that one of the goals for the 2.0 release was to make the user experience akin to popular e-commerce platforms like Etsy.

“Our goal with OpenBazaar 2.0 is to get it to be, with the exception of using bitcoin, … an identical experience of what you’d see on Etsy. I think the 2.0 [version] is close to that,” he said at the time.

The new OpenBazaar is built on the InterPlanetary File System, a protocol for decentralized file storage and sharing. This means that its listings can be re-uploaded, by other users, allowing purchases to be made even when a store isn’t directly connected to the internet.

While it displays real listings of goods and services offered for real bitcoins, the 2.0 version of OpenBazaar is, as advertised, still in the beta phase. In a blog post accompanying the release, the team cautioned that the system tends to overestimate fees and contains others other bugs they are working to fix.

Third-party search engines such as Duo can now be accessed in the OpenBazaar client in the new version. Previously, users had use a separate browser to use such tools, and then connect to OpenBazaar when they wanted to make purchases.

The new version also adds tools for vendors such as variants (e.g., is that sweater size small, medium or large?), inventory tracking and expanded shipping options.

Disclosure: CoinDesk is a subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which has an ownership stake in OB1, the company formed to further development of the OpenBazaar software.

Image via Shutterstock

The leader in blockchain news, CoinDesk is an independent media outlet that strives for the highest journalistic standards and abides by a strict set of editorial policies. Have breaking news or a story tip to send to our journalists? Contact us at [email protected].