‘This could be it. This could be the killer application for bitcoin’ – Free Talk Live host, March 2011
Whilst researching the early days of Silk Road for my book, I came across a wonderful little piece of history: a radio show by Free Talk Live which ran a comprehensive piece on Silk Road on 17 March 2011 – around six weeks after Silk Road had launched and a good two-and-a-half months before Adrian Chen’s Gawker article. At the time, Silk Road had 151 registered users, 38 listings and 28 transactions to date. By the time it was shuttered in October 2013, it had just shy of a million registered users.
At around 48 minutes into the program, the hosts discuss Bitcoin, which they said, is worth “almost a buck”. One of the hosts says he started mining, but then figured it would take two years to generate 50 bitcoins – “not worth it”.
Then it moves on to Silk Road at about 58 minutes in. ‘I’ve come across something I think is really interesting… it can really make things interesting as far as Bitcoin is concerned, as far as the black market is concerned. And I’m talking about drugs,’ says one of the hosts. ‘One of the hallmarks of black markets is, unfortunately, crappy quality and crappy service. . . Service is unreliable at best and prices typically exorbitant. And there’s a lot of danger…What happens when the internet gets into black markets?’
A good twenty minutes of the program is dedicated to discussing Silk Road and they seemed to have a pretty solid handle on it. They bring up the potential for harm minimisation and crime reduction, and seem impressed by the potential for plausible deniability. But most of all, they look at how online black markets can reduce drug-related violence. ‘All kinds of violence surrounds the black market. One of the goals of us when we talk on Free Talk Live is to minimize the harm that is done’, they say.
Being a talkback show, they invited listeners to call in.
‘This sounds like a website set up by the CIA.’ said first caller, Larry. ‘They’re preying on us already through the internet and through Google’. But we sort of lost where Larry was going went into a rambling discussion about his daughter’s internet dating experiences.
‘Of course,’ the hosts said, ‘nobody knows who’s running the Silk Road’
Well they knew, sort of. Long before the moniker “Dread Pirate Roberts” was ever attached to the online black markets, a forum member called “silkroad” had been ethusiastically spruiking his new site on the Bitcoin forums.
‘Thanks for this awesome idea, silkroad,’ FTA host Ian wrote on the forum. ‘I am so impressed, I promoted it on my national radio program tonight. Hope you don’t mind the publicity’.
‘How cool!’ silkroad responded. ‘How big is your audience?’