Last week, Silk Road spokesman Dread Pirate Roberts broke a longstanding silence, granting an interview to Andy Greenberg of Forbes magazine. In it, he finally admitted Silk Road’s worst-kept secret – the person posting as Dread Pirate Roberts and steering the ship was not the same person who founded Silk Road.
This came as no surprise whatsoever to regulars on the Silk Road forums. The bigger questions are: which number is this particular DPR? How many people now post from the DPR forum account? And are they merely PR people rather than the owner of the site?
In short, I believe this is incarnation No.3 or possibly No.4. There is no doubt there’s more than one person using the DPR forum account and it is unlikely any of them are the owner(s) of the Silk Road site.
The first change came almost immediately after the Gawker article, before the moniker ‘Dread Pirate Roberts’ had even been bestowed. That was when the longest outage in Silk Road history occurred, followed by a massive overhaul of registrations, vendor accounts and the site in general. The person who took over, incarnation 2, was the DPR of legend; the one who wrote passionate missives about his philosophies and the Silk Road community, who convinced his customers they were part of a revolution and developed a cult-like following.
This DPR either gave ‘no comment’ responses to media or provided one or two line answers to specific questions. He was always polite, always responded to PMs, but was also careful not to give too much away. He preferred to speak directly to his audience in his own words, on his own forum.
It changed hands again around October last year, soon followed by lengthy unexplained downtime of the site and the sudden demotion of longstanding moderators, without explanation to either them or the community. DPR posted that he would be changing his writing style to fool the authorities. His posts became infrequent and very brief. Regulars lamented his lack of presence on the forum.
There were a couple of posts made under the DPR handle that were reminiscent of the old pirate. Was part of the handover an agreement by the outgoing DPR to write up a few missives for misdirection purposes? That would certainly make sense and would be part of a well thought out plan to obfuscate the change.
But suddenly in the past month, there is a new, highly engaged Dread Pirate Roberts who posts frequently, gives interviews to media and interacts in the forums like an excited member. He has a Twitter account (really). This new DPR even quotes posts by other members in his sig (albeit a most worthy member, the formidable DoctorX). Although friendly and helpful, the posts he, she or they make are not remotely similar to the DPR of old and emotion and irritability often creep in, something that rarely happened in the past, where posts seemed highly measured.
I asked the question and here’s the response I got:
There is no doubt that whoever was posting as DPR on August 23 2013 was not the same person as the one who was posting as DPR even as recently as July 2013:
It clearly wasn’t a typo and he had never made this error before – last month he had no problem with the spelling. Of course, this could be an example of the change of writing style, but I seriously doubt it.
The change in style has gone hand in hand with a bunch of changes and improvements to Silk Road (more since that post). So has ownership changed hands again, or has Silk Road simply appointed a publicity officer, outsourcing the ‘public face’ of the site as Atlantis has done? (Soon after their interview with me and the subsequent advertising blitz, Atlantis started insisting that any media go through their publicity officer, Heisenberg2.0. And Heisenberg, don’t think I haven’t noticed you ‘borrowing’ quotes from my site and tweets in your own posts and responses to questions, btw).
Whatever the explanation, it certainly heralds a new era for Silk Road, and whether it is a good one remains to be seen. Some members see it as the beginning of the end. Many of the changes to the site have met with resistance from vendors and customers alike. Security-conscious members are quick to point out flaws in updates as they are rolled out and many are irritated that these measures hadn’t been considered pre-change. And a lot of members don’t like the idea of the DPR who once shared himself only with his membership courting the press and tweeting.
There is a well-known truism of family dynasties that the once one generation makes the fortune, the next generation grows the fortune and the one after that loses the fortune. Is that what we are seeing with Silk Road? And most importantly, can this new Dread Pirate Roberts engender the same fierce loyalty and devotion among the community as the DPR of old did?