The Blog

How does encryption work in our solution?

BitBoost Marketplace enables encryption as a primary solution for user data management.

An introduction to encrypted blockchain and off-chain messages for developers.

BitBoost Marketplace is designed from the ground up to protect user privacy. We don’t collect any personal data, no email address or other user information is required to register, and we encrypt all messages between users at all times. Messages critical to a sale are recorded on the blockchain; all other messages are exchanged off-chain to minimise any risk of a future attack.

GDPR

While we believe this is the right approach anyway, our implementation takes place within the context of the new GDPR laws, with which sellers within the EU must be compliant. These include the ‘right to erasure’; under the new EU laws, users have the right to demand that web services delete their personal data under various circumstances – including simply when the individual withdraws their consent for the company to hold it.

This has proven controversial in the case of blockchain-based platforms, which permanently store all the data held on them. At the same time, they are decentralised platforms with nodes all over the world and – in most cases – cannot exactly said to be owned by a company. Moreover, there’s uncertainty about what ‘erasure’ means in these circumstances. While it’s not possible to remove data, strong encryption places it out of reach of all but the owner(s) of the private key used to encode the message. Hogan Lovells’ Guide to blockchain and data protection comments, ‘Some data protection authorities have found that irreversible encryption constitutes erasure. In a blockchain environment, erasure is technically impossible because the system is designed to prevent it. However, smart contracts will contain mechanisms governing access rights. Therefore the smart contract can be used to revoke all access rights, thereby making the content invisible to others, albeit not erased.’

For BBM, access to encrypted blockchain messages are governed by smart contracts and cryptography. Buyers and sellers can both access messages they have exchanged and, if required, grant access to an arbiter. Thus the data is available only to those who have created it.

Public key encryption and shared secrets

In practice, communications are encrypted using ‘shared secrets’, which in our case are securely generated using the two parties’ public and private keys. It’s a neat feature of the Curve25519 cryptography that a common number can be generated without the two users sharing any sensitive information: Alice can use her private key and Bob’s public key to generate the same shared secret that Bob generates with his private key and Alice’s public key. This shared secret can now be used to encrypt messages between Alice and Bob, so that only the two of them can read the content. Where third parties like arbiters may be involved, a one-time private key is generated so that buyer and seller can communicate with the third party without revealing their own private keys. The private keys used for both wallet generation and encrypted communications are the same, and are securely stored in the user data folder as a JSON file, encrypted with a password.

In this way, BBM provides robust privacy for both encrypted blockchain messages and off-chain communication.

The potential of blockchain for international e-commerce

The game-changing implications of blockchain lend themselves to diverse industries and sectors. The academic community has now begun to explore some of the commercial possibilities, as well as critiquing and helping to refine the core technology. This research includes the potential for blockchain and decentralised technologies to revolutionise e-commerce – with one recent study making direct reference to BitBoost Marketplace solution for digital commerce.

Assessing the potential of blockchain for international e-commerce.
An introduction to an academic work about blockchain and e-commerce

With the rise in prominence of cryptocurrencies over 2017 and 2018, blockchain technology has been gaining more attention from researchers as well as in the media and among regulators. Some of this academic work has – quite naturally – focused on the possibilities that distributed ledger technology (DLT) holds out for online commerce. These studies are obviously of interest to BitBoost and its community, since our blockchain e-commerce marketplace was created to break down the barriers inherent in the current centralised model of internet shopping.

We would like to share a recently-published academic work about the application of blockchain to international commerce, written by Jose Castelao López, a Masters student of International Commerce at the Escuela Universitaria de Estudios Empresariales (Vigo, Spain). López’s study gives an overview of the sector and technology, and makes specific reference to BBM in this context. Thanks for the shout out!

If you read Spanish, we recommend you take a look at the thesis in full. You can find it here. For those who don’t read Spanish or who just want the short version, here’s a summary of some of the key points of the paper.

Efficiencies of DLT

Today’s enterprise networks are typically inefficient, due the requirement that every participant maintains their own transaction record in isolation from all the others. This means that much unnecessary effort is expended in synchronising records, through various onerous processes and middlemen, and the system is always prone to errors and syncing problems.

Blockchain offers greater efficiency for data transfer and storage, both for individuals and corporations. All the same, this does not mean that every company should adopt a DLT solution. In many cases, this will not be necessary or worth the effort. According to López, at least three of the following factors should be present before a blockchain solution is sought:

  1. Multiple parties share data.
  2. Multiple parties update data.
  3. Requirement for verification.
  4. Intermediaries add complexity.
  5. Interactions are time sensitive.
  6. Transactions created by different participants interact with each other.

If enough of the necessary conditions are met, blockchain can profitably disrupt two major elements of the traditional e-commerce landscape: payments and intermediation.

Blockchain and e-commerce payments

Blockchain’s very first use case was in building a payment network, Bitcoin. Unsurprisingly, bitcoin was used for e-commerce right from its earliest days. (The famous ‘Bitcoin Pizza’ transaction took place on 22 May 2010, a little over a year since Satoshi launched the Bitcoin network. BitPay, which provides bitcoin payment processing services for merchants, was founded a year later in May 2011.)

Bitcoin was soon followed by many other cryptocurrencies. One of the major concerns of any company that operates online is the fees that have to be paid to financial intermediaries. These fees have a real impact on profits, especially for low-margin businesses, and have to be passed on to the customer in the price of the products and services being sold. Fees for blockchain payments are typically significantly lower than when using traditional financial services. (This research was carried out before the last BTC scaling and fees crisis at the end of last year, which has since been resolved with the implementation of SegWit and transaction batching by exchanges.) The potential for low-fee transactions has many benefits for e-commerce companies.

Blockchains as intermediaries for e-commerce

The second area of interest and application for blockchain technology in online commerce is in disintermediating merchant-customer relationships.

At present, any SME that wants to sell inventory online has two options:

  • To create their own store with a dedicated website
  • To create a store on an established marketplace platform, such as Amazon, eBay or Alibaba.

The latter option tends to be more successful in terms of sales, due to the greater network effect of these large corporations, but comes at a high cost to the merchant. These intermediaries, who control around 40% of total global e-commerce, exact heavy commission fees from their sellers, dramatically reducing their profit margins. There have also been reports of routine harsh and unfair practices – see the various Amazon controversies.

This is exactly the problem that BitBoost Marketplace solution is designed to address, as well as other blockchain-based stores like OpenBazaar. These offer a true peer-to-peer transaction protocol that removes middlemen at key points, while trust and confidence are maintained by the unique features of the blockchain. A further advantage of this technology is the relative privacy it offers over centralised marketplaces. Since there is no registration process, the customer does not need to provide the company with any personal information to use the service, and blockchain payments can be made from any number of different (and anonymous) addresses. Hacking and data leaks are solved by ensuring the customer isn’t required to give up their data in the first place – something that is becoming ever more important in the age of Cambridge Analytica and the new GDPR laws.

Conclusion

It is gratifying to see that not only are the general principles that led to the creation of BitBoost Marketplace solution being validated by academic research, but that BBM has explicitly been identified as one of the platforms spearheading the new blockchain e-commerce movement in this study. The thesis is an intriguing piece of work that explores the potential of blockchain for online retail in some detail. If you read Spanish, make sure you don’t miss out!

BitBoost: the journey so far

It’s been a long road in our quest to create a decentralised mass-market e-commerce platform. We’ve been working on this in one form or another for over four years. At this point, as we’re finally starting to test the first iterations of our completed software, it’s worth taking a step back and looking at how far we’ve come.

The Nxt years

What ultimately became BitBoost Marketplace (BBM) started out life on the Nxt platform, the first true ‘2.0’ blockchain. CEO Paul Mahone and Andrew Lekar began work on this back at the beginning of 2014. A trawl of the archives shows that it’s almost exactly four years since NxtFreeMarket, as it was then known, was officially launched.

NxtFreeMarket was a standalone app that the user downloaded and ran alongside the Nxt client. It included some of the same features as the current iteration of the project, enabling users to connect directly with each other to buy and sell goods. Unfortunately, while Nxt was trailblazing for its time, it still lacked the functionality to make a decentralised e-commerce app that was fit for purpose. Fortunately, something far more powerful was just around the corner.

The move to Ethereum

Ethereum made enormous waves in the crypto community when Vitalik Buterin first announced the project in 2013. It went on to become the most successful crowdsale of its time, and when the platform finally launched in 2015 it immediately became clear that it would provide a far better foundation for building an online marketplace than Nxt. The BitBoost initiative was formed and NxtFreeMarket retired, with the commitment that the tokenholders who had funded the first version of the project would be able to swap their Nxt tokens for the new ERC20-compliant tokens.

Successful token sale

At the beginning of 2017, the slowly-expanding team began work on the white paper that would form the basis of their token sale later that year. The updated concept was an ambitious peer-to-peer marketplace that would combine the benefits of decentralised technologies with the user experience and functionality of a traditional online store like Amazon or eBay. That meant user-friendly features like instant search and support for images in listings, necessitating the exploration of technologies beyond blockchain – which could not support the bandwidth or storage requirements of a full-featured marketplace – without unnecessarily compromising on decentralisation.

The public token sale for the marketplace was held in September and October of 2017. Roughly 5 million BitBoost Tokens (BBT) were sold for bitcoin and Ether, with a value at the time of around $1.2 million. BBT would be used by sellers to pay for listing fees on the marketplace, creating ongoing demand for the token.

Company incorporation

Driven by new and fast-evolving regulation, and the desire position the project properly for the future, the team incorporated BitBoost as a company in Zug, Switzerland – a forward-looking jurisdiction well-known for being sympathetic to crypto. New team members were hired, ultimately bringing the total number up to 28 people from 16 different countries, spread in various locations around the world.

It also became necessary to rebrand in order to avoid confusion with other crypto initiatives. The project duly became BitBoost Marketplace (BBM).

App development

Alongside these developments, work on the core app continued, and the first version is now available for testing (invite only). BBM is available as a standalone Windows or macOS app, and will create a new wallet address when first used. This ERC20-compatible wallet can be used to withdraw payments to an external address or send funds to other accounts, as well as for managing payments on BitBoost Marketplace.

Basic functionality has been completed, and sellers can upload items for listing, with images – though this process is currently being overhauled (see below). Instant search and a clean interface makes the user experience similar to that of mainstream e-commerce platforms. However, everything possible works on a decentralised basis, and messages between users are encrypted for privacy. Critically, BitBoost do not need to host any software or store any user data.

Exchanges

As soon as BBT was issued, holders could trade it on decentralised exchanges such as EtherDelta. Since then, BBT has also been listed on traditional crypto exchanges. These include Mercatox (against BTC and ETH) and more recently the popular Cryptopia (against BTC, LTC, and DOGE).

Ongoing research and development

BitBoost have adopted a Lean and Agile approach to software development, which focuses on fast development cycles, creating working software and constantly learning along the way – adapting our goals and the means by which we achieve them according to market needs and technical realities.

This has led to some significant developments in the functionality we want to provide for BBM. For example, we discovered that gas costs are too high and unpredictable to store item listing data on the blockchain, and so took the decision to explore using IPFS for this instead. As new products and technologies come onto the market, we have also had the opportunity to incorporate these into BBM.

One example is the TrueUSD stablecoin, a token that is 1:1 backed by US dollars. This will offer our users the advantages of low-cost, fast and borderless transactions without the volatility otherwise inherent in cryptocurrencies. Not only is TrueUSD an ERC20 token, meaning we can integrate it relatively easily, but the team has taken a very different approach to Tether, currently the most popular stablecoin, in terms of transparency and auditing.

In the coming months, a series of new features are planned. We will release Linux and mobile versions, as well as a web interface. A decentralised arbitration system will be launched to address disputes between buyers and sellers, and popular options for delivery services will be added.

We will implement filters to enable users to prevent search results from displaying objectionable items according to their personal preferences or jurisdiction. The app is available in English, but in due course will be localised for as many languages as possible.

We’ll be releasing an updated roadmap shortly, so stay tuned. Like our community, we’re looking forward to seeing the first version of BitBoost Marketplace in action as soon as possible.

BitBoost roadmap updated

Based on the work we want to prioritise over the coming weeks and months, we’re publishing an updated BitBoost roadmap.

As you’ll be aware, BitBoost are big fans of Lean and Agile methodologies – which is dev-speak for ‘We prioritise working software, iterate fast, and continually learn and adapt to evolving market needs and technical realities.’ This means that while our goal of creating a full-featured decentralised e-commerce marketplace remains the same, we constantly re-evaluate how we get there to ensure we take the best approach. (Our decision to integrate IPFS into BitBoost Marketplace solution for hosting item listing data is a great example of this.)

Work in progress!

While this means we can move quickly, it also means that the fine detail of previous BitBoost roadmaps can become obsolete pretty fast, so from time to time we like to update the community about our latest plans. As before, please bear in mind that this information is intentionally subject to change and is provided as a rough guide only – not a contract set in stone for delivery of certain functionality by a given deadline! If we discover new technologies, encounter specific coding challenges, receive particular requests from users or are presented with opportunities that are too good to miss, we rethink.

With that in mind, here’s what we tentatively plan for the coming months:

  • Version 1.4 (current sprint). This update involves some significant changes to the structure of the app. It includes IPFS integration for item listings and the open-sourcing of our code. The ‘Storefront’ feature enables a user to create a store name, upload items under that name, and allow buyers to search exclusively for items within that store. (In due course, this will be developed as a fully customisable storefront for a business.) The pagination feature breaks up a long list of items into separate pages, to improve app performance and, thus, user experience.
  • Version 1.5. More shipping options to be included, as well as TrueUSD integration, and various minor bug fixes.
  • Version 1.6: Implementation of the Arbitration smart contract and bug fixes.
  • Version 1.7: Web browser version for easy access (similar to traditional e-commerce platforms like eBay).

These updates are likely, at the very earliest, to be completed by the end of 2018. Q1 2019 is more realistic. In the new year, we’ll continue adding features to the BitBoost Marketplace solution with:

  • Version 1.8: Mobile app version with integration of mobile Ethereum OS Status.im.
  • Version 1.9: Implementation of filtering for search results.
  • Version 1.10: Support for printing mailing labels. Links to search engines, plus sigs and nametags for easy marketplace searching.
  • Version 1.11: Metrics for marketing statistics and sellers. Unfinished items saved as drafts.
  • Version 1.12: Improved bug reporting process, plus backup service for chat logs.
  • Version 1.13: Escrow contract and receipts for sellers.

There’s plenty more to come after this, but the further out we get the more flexible the development plan will be. As ever, we’ll keep the community posted as BitBoost roadmap evolves. Thanks a lot!

Tech Report for Week of September 24 2018

Version 1.4 of BitBoost Marketplace is under development now, and our devs are working hard to bring you a new app that addresses a major problem with the current state of Ethereum.

You may have seen in the news that the price of gas has skyrocketed several times recently. If you are unfamiliar with gas costs, think of them as the (usually very small) payments needed to use the Ethereum blockchain. For instance, doing some calculations or storing data have small costs associated with them, since these actions use the resources of the network. BitBoost Marketplace is on the Ethereum network, so its transactions require small costs to the network. The expected costs were around 0.02 USD for simple transactions, but more than once we saw that cost rise to 4.00 or 5.00 USD (!). This is clearly an unacceptable situation for our users, so we had to find a solution.

We have settled on IPFS (the Interplanetary File System), which is a project to create a cryptographically secure, global file system. BitBoost supports IPFS in its mission (we currently run 3 IPFS nodes, just to support the network), and this technology turns out to be a good fit for what we need. We are rebuilding the core of BitBoost Marketplace to use a hybrid system of data storage. IPFS holds most of the data (such as an item’s description), while the Ethereum blockchain holds only references to that data. The cost savings of this hybrid system are huge but it is also an engineering challenge, and our devs have put a lot of effort into building it.

New release technical updates.

Their work is about to pay off. We plan to release 1.4 in October. Even so, we understand that it’s hard to wait – we get frustrated too! So, our plan is to be more transparent with our community by providing an update every two weeks. You can expect the list to change as we add/complete tasks, learn about new options in available technology, and respond to coding challenges. Here is a list of what’s under active development right now:

  • Building new IPFS infrastructure to reduce gas costs for buyer and seller.
  •  Testing and bug fixing for purchase process with new IPFS infrastructure.
  • Testing and bug fixing for searching process with new IPFS infrastructure.
  • Updating notifications system to work with new IPFS infrastructure.
  • Adding Seller Storefronts to the app.
  • Adding Storefront settings UI to Preferences.
  • Building infrastructure for store names in blockchain and IPFS.
  • Recreating existing blockchain syncing system on IPFS.
  • Changing Preferences UI to accommodate IPFS features.
  • Updating in-app Help to keep it current with recent changes.
  • Adding gas estimates for transactions that use gas.
  • Updating transaction list to display incoming transactions (payments to user), not just outgoing transactions.
  • Building custom IPFS node network to support the app.
  • Bug fixing for “refund purchase” features.
  • Adding seller option for blockchain-only listings (without IPFS).
  • Theme options being removed until the upgraded theme system is finished.
  • Testing and bug fixes for in-app encrypted chat system
  • Preparing open source version of the app.

This new version of the app is entering the testing process, so it will be ready soon. Stay tuned!

BitBoost Marketplace is for physical goods

BitBoost Marktplace is designed to sell physical items, not digital!

BitBoost Marketplace is designed for physical goods, similar to Etsy or eBay. It is not intended to be a blockchain-based version of iTunes or an app store. Some merchants may try to use it this way, but the marketplace was not designed with the hosting and other protections necessary for listing digital downloads.

We sometimes get questions from sellers along the following lines:

‘I’m interested in selling digital goods, created by myself, such as music and ebooks. Will there be some kind of hosting mechanism where I upload the content, perhaps have some blockchain licencing attached, and then sell directly through BitBoost? Or is there some kind of third party you can recommend to do that?’

While marketplaces for digital and physical goods appear superficially similar, they require very different functionality. BitBoost’s solution is not designed to support digital downloads.

Features designed and crafted just for physical items.

When a user buys a physical item, the seller receives the funds, takes the item from their own inventory, and ships it to the destination address. BitBoost plays no part in this process, other than to provide the software that connects buyer and seller directly.

A digital store that sells music downloads, ebooks, and apps is a very different kind of system. The store has to provide hosting for the third party content. They also have to protect it from being copied and distributed more widely. This means implementing a Digital Rights Management (DRM) system – a whole other level of functionality and complexity.

So, while it is technically possible for merchants to sell digital items on the BitBoost Marketplace – by simply sending a digital file to buyers – we do not advise it. There is no way to prevent users from copying downloads and distributing them more widely. The same is true of selling services. Our system is not designed to ensure that services are delivered as promised, not in the same way that we can facilitate the delivery of physical items and verify they meet expectations.

To reiterate: our focus is on physical goods. Our escrow and arbitration systems are built for this use case. Use of the marketplace for other types of products or services is very much at the buyer’s/seller’s own risk!

Innovation in BitBoost. What are we doing?

How is innovation unleashed in BitBoost?

BitBoost’s team is dedicated to making e-commerce more accessible and frictionless for everyone. We believe in Free Trade, and the BitBoost Marketplace is designed from the ground up to make it a reality for all. But achieving that isn’t just about our software. Our first product and resource is the company itself, and we aim to replicate many of the same values in BitBoost that we implement in the marketplace.

  • Diversity. We currently have 28 people (including contractors) from 16 different countries. Just over 30% of our team are women. We feel this diversity contributes to a more open-minded environment, resulting in products that are respectful of different ideas and requirements.
  • Dispersed. We are at the forefront of the Remote Team idea, and use technologies including Basecamp, Trello, Jira, Zoom and various social media to enable team members to participate from all over the world.
  • Flat. Our desire is to stay Lean as a company, efficient in our use of resources and trusting of our fellow team members. Everyone is free to share opinions and ideas, and to ask for help.
  • Community focus. We actively support and contribute to complimentary projects that further our aims through decentralisation and innovation. We also aim to engage the community in the development and use of the marketplace wherever possible. For example:
    • By design, members of the community will be able to participate as arbiters and shipping providers.
    • Our community-based filtering system allows anyone to create filters and make them more widely available.

Technology innovations

Conventional e-commerce tries to lock users into one platform, controlling them and their data to prevent them from taking this valuable resource elsewhere. In contrast, we have built a completely open marketplace. Our mission is not to silo customers off from other platforms, but to create unlimited network effect by enabling anyone to use the application. Ultimately, our aim is not to connect buyers and sellers with our platform: it’s to connect them directly to each other. A series of innovations are used to bring about this goal, and the values we believe support it:

  • End-to-end user privacy. From the encrypted chat feature we are building to the pseudonymous nature of blockchain addresses, the marketplace protects users’ privacy and gives them control over their personal data.
  • TrueUSD. BitBoost Marketplace is the first e-commerce platform to use the TrueUSD stable cryptocoin for transactions, avoiding the problems of crypto’s notorious volatility.
  • Pioneering use of IPFS. We will store listings on the Inter-Planetary File System, rather than on the Ethereum blockchain – maintaining the distributed nature of the platform without incurring high fees or leaving data publicly available forever.
  • Smart contracts for escrow and arbitration. We protect users by locking payments until items are received, and ensuring an effective but decentralised dispute resolution process.
  • Many more features are planned.

The goal of our innovations

Ultimately, we want to create a series of powerful tools that will facilitate decentralised commerce:

  • Open API for blockchain e-commerce. A well-documented and straightforward API will dramatically lower the barrier to blockchain entry, and enable many more developers to access the BitBoost Marketplace.
  • Customisable for any ERC20 token. We want our entire e-commerce infrastructure to be adaptable for third-party developers and applications. This will include businesses being able to use any ERC20 token for payments.
  • Fully open-sourced development. We will soon open source our code so that anyone can contribute to the project – giving greater control to those who use our products, and driving faster growth and more diverse innovation. At that point, BitBoost’s role will likely shift from production to support and providing technical services for the marketplace’s code.

Building a new kind of e-commerce community

Beyond providing additional tools to existing e-commerce users, we are actively trying to build the wider e-commerce community and offer totally new opportunities to sellers and entrepreneurs.

  • Creating content to inform and educate people about the problems surrounding traditional e-commerce, and some of the solutions BitBoost Marketplace and blockchain technology offer.
  • Including the unbanked, who number over 2 billion globally, thanks to the use of TrueUSD in our embedded wallet. By making e-commerce accessible to these people for the first time, we can improve the lives of millions.
  • Engaging the community in our growth and development, ultimately enabling people to contribute in whatever way they can by completely open-sourcing the platform.

We strongly believe we have not yet begun to realise the full potential of e-commerce, and expect to see entirely new paradigms arise as we throw the doors open and encourage the community to take the reins.

Don’t confuse BBT tokens!

We need to advise our community that there is another token with the symbol BBT. While this occasionally happens and shouldn’t cause any problems, we wanted to make sure that no one confused the BitBoost token for something else.

A second ‘BBT’ has been created. This is being distributed by a different company, operating in a different sector. This has nothing to do with the BitBoost marketplace, and our developers have no involvement with the project. The ‘Big Bang Token’ is part of a gaming loyalty initiative, and is currently being airdropped to the crypto community. It is also hosted on the Ethereum platform, like our own BitBoost Token.

In the decentralised landscape in which cryptocurrency operates, anyone can create a token and there is no single body tasked with avoiding such duplication. Typically, a token ticker symbol (like ‘BBT’) becomes established simply through use. Exchanges won’t list a token if it has the same symbol as another that is already traded on their platform. Additionally, ahead of listing a new token, most exchanges will check to ensure that another token with the same symbol isn’t already traded elsewhere. But this is an informal policy, and of course there is nothing to stop someone launching a new token with the same symbol as an existing one – even if the existing token is widely traded.

We do not anticipate that the existence of another token named BBT will cause any problems. It is generally easy to tell tokens apart by their full names and logos, which are displayed alongside exchange listings. However, we wanted to inform the community of this second BBT token to avoid any possible confusion.

How we work at BitBoost: going Lean and Agile

BitBoost uses Agile methodologies in its development process. The reason for this is Agile’s rapid development cycle and its emphasis on creating working software. Using Agile, BitBoost learns all the time and can constantly iterate our app with improvements and new features. The outcome is software that can be released quickly and on-budget, adapting to the evolving needs of the marketplace along the way.

Technology moves quickly, and blockchain technology even more so. Any organisation that wants to launch a crypto product is fighting the clock, right from the start. Consumers’ needs change, the technological landscape shifts, and competitors will do everything they can to beat you to market. That’s before you start worrying about burn rates and what happens if you run out of marketing and development funds. The history of crypto is littered with the remains of good ideas that never made it to market – not because they weren’t great in theory, but because it took too long or too much money to get them into users’ hands. In short, time is of the essence.

That’s why BitBoost has adopted Agile methodologies both for our product development and for our marketing activities. ‘Agile’ has become a bit of a buzzword in software development over the last few years, but there are good reasons to choose it. Alongside other similar tools/approaches (more on these below), Agile allows us to take a rapid, iterative approach to development. We can react to changes in technology and the market as we go – therefore wasting as little time and money as possible.

Build, test, learn, repeat

BitBoost uses a series of related but different project management methodologies and tools, including Lean, Agile and Kanban. If you’re not familiar with these (and even if you are), the differences can seem subtle and confusing. As a broad overview:

Lean is a set of values for delivering software quickly, efficiently and in response to genuine market needs. The seven key principles of Lean are:

  1. Eliminate waste
  2. Amplify learning
  3. Commit as late as possible
  4. Deliver as soon as possible
  5. Empower the team
  6. Build integrity in
  7. See the whole

The overall idea is to ensure that development occurs fast. However, decisions are only taken when they both make sense for the end-user and when it is clear that they are the best option in terms of the overall product. We don’t look for short-term wins at the expense of the big picture. Lean is all about delivering value at every stage. Anything that doesn’t add value is considered waste, and is cut. Lean can be characterised by the slogan: ‘Think big, act small, fail fast; learn rapidly.’ You can learn more about Lean Startup methodology here.

Agile shares a lot of values with Lean, and is an approach articulated in The Agile Manifesto. This is a key document put together by 14 experts from the software industry, in response to flawed ‘wisdom’ about the best way to create applications. Agile seeks to break a large task (like a big software project) down into lots of small ones and individual bits of functionality. These are built separately. They are delivered and then tested and iterated in short development cycles – typically just two-week ‘sprints’ (to use a term from Scrum, one implementation of Agile).

Agile’s guiding principles are:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

You can read a more comprehensive account of Agile’s key principles here.

Kanban is a framework and set of tools for scheduling. It is often used to help visualise Lean and Agile processes. Kanban was created by an engineer at Toyota to facilitate just-in-time (JIT) manufacturing. Many manufacturers now use JIT processes, since it is inefficient and unnecessarily costly to complete a task or component too early or too late. Kanban tools have since been adapted for software development and other tasks, with the aim of reducing or eliminating bottlenecks. We have found these very useful in keeping us on track!

This is how our Jira (the project management tool for coders) looks like… . 

The advantages of Agile

Prior to the rise of Agile, the standard process for software development was the ‘Waterfall’ approach. Waterfall has been used for software development since the 1970s – the era of mainframe computers. It entails creating a detailed roadmap with key milestones and targets – and, of course, budgets. A large project might have a development timeline of two years or more, and cost many millions of dollars.

Agile is designed to avoid these issues by taking a radically different approach. It’s one that has repeatedly (and successfully) been tested in the field. Take the example of Unboxed Consulting, for example, which was commissioned by the UK government to build their e-Petitions website. Where other companies gave quotes in the region of 8 months and £1 million, Unboxed put in a bid for 8 weeks and £80,000. Their Agile approach enabled them to deliver on time and on budget, and the service has gone from strength to strength ever since.

Agile marketing

And this is how our Trello (the tool we use for project management in marketing) looks like… .

The Lean and Agile approaches work together so well that the terms are often used synonymously, though they’re not the same thing (even many of the teams that use them don’t fully understand the difference). The simple answer is: ‘Agile development is a process for rapid software delivery that is connected to many Lean principles.’ Agile’s iterative approach, short development/feedback cycle, and structured process of learn/adapt all align well with Lean’s core concerns.

This has been extremely valuable to us. For example, it’s how we pinpointed the problem of transaction fees and made the decision to move to IPFS rather than storing item listings on the Ethereum blockchain. The key to Agile is failing fast: if something is going to go wrong, it’s best to know that sooner rather than later so you can try a different approach. We did just that!

But Agile and Lean can be applied to more than just software development. Our core product isn’t the only part of our operation we can optimise by focusing on adding value and ensuring that we learn rapidly with each iteration. We’ve taken this same approach to our marketing. And so, as we launch our working beta and start to advertise it more actively, we’ll also be testing out a series of different strategies for customer engagement, service provision and pricing. We will evaluate each as we go and build on the ones that are most successful.

Both in terms of our software development and our marketing, we’re convinced that Lean and Agile are not just the best ways to go: they are the only viable ways to run our operation. The Lean/Agile approach ensures that we create world-class and ground-breaking software, and get it out to as many businesses and customers as fast and effectively as we possibly can.

BitBoost Marketplace: upcoming features

A series of new features will be made available in coming releases. Here’s an overview of what we plan to provide.

With most core functionality for our platform now in place, we’ll be delivering a series of improvements and new features over the coming months. These will ensure that our marketplace can compete with existing e-commerce platforms.

Usability and convenience

All of our updates improve the user’s experience, but there are several that we consider particularly important if we are going to reach beyond the narrow crypto community and break through to mainstream consumers and businesses.

TrueUSD. Most ordinary consumers aren’t comfortable with crypto’s volatility. TrueUSD is a new ‘stablecoin’, hosted on the Ethereum blockchain. Like Tether (USDT), TUSD tokens are 1:1 backed by real dollars, but the approach taken is very different. Tether is centralised, and it’s not clear what the company is doing with the tokens or fiat funds it holds. There’s also no easy way for traders to cash USDT out to dollars in their bank accounts. TrueUSD has addressed all these problems. As well as putting in place a clear legal process and regular audits, it’s a big plus that the TrueUSD company itself doesn’t have access to users’ funds. You can read more about why we chose TrueUSD here.

Web interface and mobile version. Outside of crypto, most people are more comfortable with a website-based account and sign-in process. They generally don’t want to download a separate piece of software to run locally. By providing a similar user experience to other major e-commerce platforms – even if there is something very different going on behind the scenes – we know we’ll reach more buyers and sellers faster and more easily. Ultimately, we’ll also be looking to provide a mobile version so that customers can use our platform on the go, wherever they are.

Localisation. We’re aiming to support over 20 languages, covering a userbase that stretches across most of the world.

Arbitration. A peer-to-peer e-commerce platform needs a different way of approaching disputes than the one used by companies like eBay and Amazon. BitBoost Marketplace will use a decentralised process that involves verified arbiters. It is supported by smart contracts, and arbiters are themselves subject to checks and balances. You can find out more about the arbitration process here.

Shipping. We’re going to be including several popular shipping options for sellers’ convenience, and so that buyers will also have greater choice in the locations from which they can buy items.

Merchant tools

Getting merchants on board is key to driving adoption, and a number of our updates will offer particular advantages to sellers.

Metrics. We will create a KPI dashboard to give sellers lots of useful information about their businesses’ performance.

Ability to print return mailing labels. This automates a simple but important task for sellers.

Receipt automation. This will facilitate sellers’ ability to print packing receipts and/or send digital receipts to buyers – again, a routine but important task.

E-store features. This will enable sellers to create more customised and attractive online storefronts.

We also have several updates that will improve the listings process:

IPFS. As we explained in a previous post, we will be using the Inter-Planetary File System (IPFS) to store information about item listings. Our early tests on mainnet showed that it would be too costly and too unpredictable to use Ethereum’s blockchain for this. Having reviewed our options, we believe the distributed file storage offered by IPFS is the perfect compromise between reducing costs for sellers and keeping our infrastructure as decentralised as possible. Ethereum will continue to be used for all financial operations.

Listing options. The list of item categories will be extended and improved so that sellers can describe their products more accurately.

Caching for unfinished item listings. This will enable sellers to start back where they left off if they do not complete the listing process for an item.

Image interface. We will create new image cropping facilities, potentially with a new and streamlined upload interface.

Filters. Users will optionally be able to apply filters to prevent certain items from being displayed in their search results. BitBoost will create at least one standard filter, which will cover items that are illegal in many jurisdictions or are adult in nature. However, we plan for filters to be versatile tools that can be used in a wide variety of ways.

Custom filters. Users will be able to create their own customised filters to avoid items they consider objectionable. Additionally, highly specific custom filters can be created and made available to everyone, enabling users to find individual items or stores and tailoring offerings to sellers’ and buyers’ preferences. All filters are free.

Filter selection interface. This will make it easy to search for filters and select them. The Preferences page in your account will show which filter you have chosen.

Miscellaneous

Other planned features include:

Review list ordering. It will be possible to order reviews by date, with either oldest or newest shown first.

Naming system. Accounts on BitBoost Marketplace are simply Ethereum addresses. These are long strings of random characters, which can be hard to recognise. The Naming system makes it possible to link addresses to names, in two different ways. Each user can choose a Sig for their own account (e.g. ‘SmithsElectronics’), which other users can search for on the marketplace. This will be an important way that sellers advertise their stores and are found by customers.

Nametags allow you to describe an account with a nickname that only you can see. This is like an entry in your personal address book, e.g. ‘coffeeguy’, ‘gardenstuff’, etc. Other users can’t search for these – they are just for your own use.

Bug reporting system. We will be integrating the ability for users to report problems directly from BitBoost Marketplace.

Affiliate widget. Just like most other mainstream e-commerce platforms, we will allow users to benefit from driving traffic to sellers – enabling the development of an affiliates ecosystem around the marketplace.

Complete look and feel overhaul. A comprehensive UX update will of course be needed to integrate all the new features we have planned into the interface.

That’s all for now! If you have suggestions for new features, please drop us a line and let us know your thoughts.