Next week is the tenth anniversary of the shutdown of Silk Road and the arrest of its founder, Ross Ulbricht (currently serving life without the possibility of parole).
Silk Road was the true OG darknet market that paved the way for all those that came after. It should be remembered as the revolution it was.
In this spirit, I’ve started doing a daily trivia quiz on Reddit and Twitter. The questions are set at PRETTY HARD level. After 24-hours or so, I’ll reveal the correct answer with a bit of background on the respective platforms, and then with more detailed background here on the blog. Then I’ll post the next question on Reddit and Twitter.
I hope you’ll all come along for the ride, and maybe learn a little DNM history on the way!
DAY 1 QUESTION:
What was the username of the bitcoin forum member who first conceived of a darknet and bitcoin-enabled “heroin store” that laid the foundations for Silk Road?
(c) Dread Pirate Roberts
(e) Variety Jones
A user who went by the name ‘teppy’ started a thread in the Bitcoin Forum on June 10, 2010, called “A Heroin Store” in which he proposed a ‘thought experiment’ about whether theoretically an illicit drug site on Tor could accept bitcoin and maintain anonymity.
On January 29 2011, a user by the name of ‘altoid’ chimed in to the thread, which was still going strong (since deleted, but quoted in several subsequent posts: ‘What an awesome thread! You guys have a ton of great ideas. Has anyone seen Silk Road yet? It’s kind of like an anonymous amazon.com. I don’t think they have heroin on there, but they are selling other stuff. They basically use bitcoin and tor to broker anonymous transactions. It’s at http://tydgccykixpbu6uz.onion.’
Altoid was later revealed to be Ross Ulbricht, aka the Dread Pirate Roberts and this was the earliest recorded reference to Silk Road. It was also the thing that would ultimately bring him down, as a later post by altoid contained the email address, “rossulbricht at gmail dot com”.
It was a pretty tricky one.
(Twitter only allows for 4 options)
READ ON FOR EVEN MORE…
The following is the unedited prologue of my forthcoming book of the definitive story of Silk Road, from the inside, by those who were there:
June 10, 2010
A clandestine digital gathering, a provocative proposal, and a revolution that would change the world forever – this is the story that unfolded on a June evening in 2010. In the shadowy recesses of an online forum, an enigmatic group of tech enthusiasts known as cypherpunks convened. Hailing from every corner of the world, these individuals shared an unquenchable passion for cryptography, political ideals, and a desire to reshape the very foundations of human interaction with money, value, and information.
Their discussions were peppered with references to their current project, such as “blockchain” and “hashing” and “computational proof”. They spoke of lofty ambitions to change the relationship between people and money, between people and value, between people and information. There was a myriad of potential applications of the revolutionary concept of the blockchain, but they were most interested in one in particular that promised to disrupt the status quo. The cypherpunks congregated on a website called bitcoin.org, captivated by the allure of a cryptocurrency that promised to challenge the traditional banking system and facilitate anonymous, peer-to-peer transactions without intermediaries. This revolutionary idea was understood by only a select few, and even fewer could grasp its potential.
It wasn’t Bitcoin’s value that intrigued the cypherpunks – that would be pointless as its value was, well, pretty much zero. It cost more in electricity for their computers to do the complex equations that would produce the bitcoins than they could be sold for. Indeed, the only reason they could give it a value at all was thanks to one of their group, Laszlo Hanyecz, who had made the first online purchase with Bitcoin a few weeks prior, on May 22nd, when he bought two Papa John’s pizzas. Of course, Papa John’s didn’t accept Bitcoin as payment, so Hanyecz had to send the Bitcoin to a friend, who then ordered the pizza and had it sent on to Hanyecz. 10,000 was a nice round number to cover the $25 pizza order and thus the notional value of a Bitcoin was set at a quarter of a cent.
Despite its lack of practical value, the group was certain of one thing: Bitcoin worked. It worked and it had the power to change the world, but the world wasn’t paying attention. There were plenty of tech stories that the masses found much more interesting. Time Magazine had recently named Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg as its Person of the Year. Apple had unveiled the first iPad. Wikileaks was drip-feeding almost half a million government documents relating to the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to the public.
So this forum was their outlet, where they could spend night after night, talking about Bitcoin, how to improve it, trying to find flaws in it and discussing how they could bring the invention into the real world. Satoshi Nakamoto, the person who invented it, was a constant contributor to these discussions, and he focused on the technical aspects of the currency, sharing his thoughts on topics like blockchain architecture, transaction processing, and cryptographic security measures. He also provided guidance on addressing scalability concerns, fostering network stability, and maintaining privacy for users.
Satoshi fostered a collaborative atmosphere within the forum, encouraging others to share their ideas, and the forum became ground zero for innovation, where the brightest minds in the field could work together to refine and advance the technology behind the world’s first cryptocurrency. But this evening, the conversation took an unexpected turn. A user named “teppy” ignited a firestorm of debate with a provocative new thread titled “A Heroin Store.”
“As a Libertarian, the thing I love most about the Bitcoin project is the chance that it could be truly disruptive,” teppy wrote. “I think that drug prohibition is one of the most socially harmful things that the US has ever done, and so I would like to do a thought experiment about how a heroin store might operate, accepting Bitcoins, and ending drug prohibition in the process.”
Teppy proposed using Bitcoin to anonymously buy and sell drugs, with the ultimate goal of ending drug prohibition. The group was captivated, and soon a fervent exchange of ideas ensued as members grappled with the challenges and questions that arose from this radical proposal.
As the cypherpunks dissected teppy’s vision, the concept of a hypothetical store began to crystallize. Ideas flew thick and fast – from utilizing the regular mail for drug delivery to employing a Bitcoin-operated anonymous delivery service. PGP encryption verification processes were suggested to verify vendors without exposing personal information, and a rating and feedback system was proposed to build trust. The online store could be established on a darknet, such as Tor, I2P, or Freenet.
Among those present in the forum, one individual remained notably silent – Satoshi, the enigmatic creator of Bitcoin. Despite developing the cryptocurrency as a political statement in response to the Global Financial Crisis of 2008, Satoshi refrained from engaging in any political discussions within the forum.
The cypherpunks were no strangers to planting the seeds of a revolution. Of course, it was, as teppy had said, just a thought experiment. Cypherpunks were just spitballing here. There wasn’t going to be a heroin store. It was all just hypothetical.
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