It’s been just over a month since Silk Road got seized and Ross Ulbricht, allegedly the site’s founder Dread Pirate Roberts, was arrested. A new Silk Road market has opened up, 24 hours after a false start which saw administration try to get things going at the poetic time of 4:20 pm GMT on 5th November . But is it truly the phoenix of Silk Road, a honeypot or an ingenious con?
Few people imagined that the closure of the largest illicit drugs market in the world would stop people from wanting to procure narcotics. In fact many predicted it would set off the so-called ‘Hydra effect’ – cut off the head and five more spring up in its place. And that’s pretty much what happened.
Most members simply migrated to one or both of the other already proven black market sites: Black Market Reloaded and Sheep Marketplace experienced unprecedented surges in registrations. Both sites provided methods of verifying trusted Silk Road vendors so that their customers could follow them, and they worked hard to attract buyers with improved features and security claims.
Then there were the faithful who wanted to see Silk Road recreated – same philosophy, same name, same interface, same enigmatic leader. A race of sorts broke out, with at least three factions trying to claim the Silk Road name and the Dread Pirate Roberts moniker.
The early frontrunner seemed to be Silk Road 2.0. Claiming to be a group of ‘trusted vendors’ they got the support of several high profile members of the original site. They created a members’ forum that replicated the original and set to work on the marketplace. But it didn’t take long for serious security concerns to be raised and the members soon withdrew their support. That one disappeared before it even appeared.
The second was the ill-fated Project Black Flag. Started by somebody calling him/herself ‘mettaDPR’, this marketplace at least opened. And then closed just as quickly, although despite some speculation it was seemingly due to incompetence rather than malice.
All the while, however, several people who held administration and moderator positions on the old Silk Road banded together to recreate Silk Road, aiming to be bigger and better than before. First they worked on recreating the community – the backbone and arguably the most defining feature of the original site. A new Dread Pirate Roberts was created; a figurehead who is the face of the site and the keeper of its philosophy, but considered an idea and a legacy rather than ‘one man’.
Although trying its best to be a remake of the original – and sadly, these new forums are considerably more troll-heavy than the old ones – the new administration is working on some improvements. Registrations are closed to new members unless they have an invite from an existing member. “Those who invite spammers or trolls who have their accounts deleted will also face repercussions,” warns the new DPR, “so please only invite those who are customers or associates.”
Many of the members of the old site became members of the new forum, adopting the same usernames and even reconstructing some of their favourite threads. The Spare Coins Thread is there, spreading love and Bitcoin amongst the worthy, and DoctorX continues to provide free, practical advice about harm minimisation, substance abuse and narcotics management. Those who can spread the love are giving positive karma to the good guys and negative karma to the trolls and journos. And some new member categories have been created (check out my cute green squares to the left).
Some tasks are being outsourced on a freelance basis or, as the site calls them, “bounties”. So people with the requisite skills can earn some Bitcoin to offset their imbibing habits:
On the marketplace, high-volume, low-value vendors will find the new commission structure more equitable with their bulk sale counterparts as commissions (which are on a sliding scale from 8% for sales under $500 to 4% for sales $20,000+) are calculated on overall sales rather than on a per-transaction basis:
The new DPR spent the past week or so providing hints to members as to the date of the site’s re-launch via a string of cryptic clues and puzzles in his signature. The more geeky members eventually figured out the exact time of launch of the new Silk Road – 4:20pm on 5 November 2013. The countdown started and the excitement grew, reaching fever pitch today. It’s like the night before Christmas! cried one member. OMG OMG OMG, it’s tomorrow! squealed another.1
Vendors were provided with a sneak preview and access a couple of days earlier to enable them to set up shop before the doors were opened. But then the excited masses were greeted with disappointment – the grand opening had been pushed back 24 hours, to 6th November, a date on which nothing notable ever happened at all.
They came through this time though. The new site appears to be near-identical to the old, with the most obvious difference being the addition of a defaced FBI seizure notice in the background of the login screen (as seen above). Most features are disabled to allow people to become used to the site.
Upon logging in, the welcome screen is a new touch:
But the rest looks pretty much the same, aside from so far only a hundredth of the number of listings:
There’s also a new ‘profile’ section and the option of PGP-enabled two-step authentication. Users have the option to display prices in a number of currencies, although not AUD, despite Australians being the third-largest users of the site according to the FBI:
Edit: AUD is now included as an option
The Silk Road faithful hope that this is a new beginning and proof that, as the closure of Napster did nothing to stop piracy, the closure of the single largest black market will be ineffective in the grand scheme of online narcotics sales. The cynical think it might be the beginning of a long con (it wouldn’t take long before the administrators have access to $millions in Bitcoin), or just a big hoax to affect Bitcoin prices. And the paranoid deem it a honeypot.
Time will tell.
1Well, inasmuch as you can tell somebody is “crying” or “squealing” from text-based posts. Forgive the literary licence.