Op-Ed: Agora: The site we all wanted
I must register that I never once in my life used Silk Road. I was, like many, late to the game. What I knew is that, for reasons of health, access to certain anti-anxiety medication was necessary in relation to the stringent laws my country had placed on them. To treat my condition I have tried everything: Xanax, Ativan, and all manner of downers designed to take the edge off life. In turn, I have used many nootropic drugs to force myself to write, my work, after all. I do not consider it beyond the realms of possibility that without these my life would be a far more horrendous exercise. Certainly I may have found a way of existing where, perhaps through alcohol or some other method, I could calm myself and not wake up in such intolerable mental pain. Before I had ever heard of darknet markets I was prescribed, as many are, with Xanax to calm me down. This was a world of 0.25mg doses where, to be honest, I may as well have been drinking tea to calm my nerves.
Now, like many, I had known about Bitcoin and Silk Road, but, out of fear, had kept my distance. What, perchance, might happen? How do I secure myself? As I became more hardened, via the Snowden leaks, to the capabilities of the NSA this fear had a strange turn. I began to recognize that, although it is not wise to order from such markets, the chief targets are the admins and moderators. Or, going down the scale, the vendors who seems to get the harshest sentences since they equate, to most people, with the idea of a “drug dealer.” Now, in light of this my life reached a point where I could not, frankly, spend as much time as the state wanted me to on medication. Prove this, prove that. I was acutely aware of my mental state, am intelligent enough to differentiate between dosages, and know what is required relative to specific situations. Hence, I decided it was time to take matters into my own hands and begin the process of, in line with medical advice, ascertaining the products I needed through the darknet marketplaces.
By the time I had decided to take the plunge Silk Road was gone and I did not trust the new version. I also had reservations about many other sites, including, as we all now know, a well-known marketplace that took the exit-route. Nonetheless, I noted that one site seemed not only to have a good reputation, but had, in the face of hacks, returned and it was, of course, Agora. Agora seemed to be consistent and they always communicated well with their users and vendors. Not only was Agora willing to be consistent, but they also always returned. The site never went ‘down’ but rather one was faced with a PGP verified message as to the status of what was occurring. Even now, as operations are paused, one is not left with the feeling the site is gone, one can still access it, but that those who run it are being vigilant.
It is a terrible shame that, as the latest messages suggest, Agora may cease to exist. My hope is that it migrates elsewhere, certainly, but no other market has ever felt as “straight” as it. We have all likely received messages of where our vendors are migrating too, but this game of cat and mouse can only go on so long. At some point there is clearly going to need to be a, and yes I realize the inherent risk, stable and long-standing market. In essence, this is what Agora stood for. In this precise sense I consider the potential loss of Agora as extending far beyond that of Silk Road: whereas SR was taken down due to its novelty Agora seems to be faltering due to a bug in Tor or perhaps sustained attacks from other adversaries. There is nothing shocking about this except that the state of Agora has always been predicated on the implicit notion that these guys knew what they were doing and hence had survived for long.
Sadly, the only logical conclusion is that Agora has either met resistance from other markets (or the Tor bug) or had reached a point where the state, however you see it, wanted to undermine them. It is remarkable, in our times, that they managed to resist what must have been many sustained attacks on their infrastructure. On this basis one can conclude, safely, that those who operate Agora are of a different order than the previous darknet marketplace operators. How can we adduce this? For one they are paying bonds back to vendors and two they explicitly asked that we withdraw funds as buyers. If this was an exit-scam this would never happen. Nonetheless if this is a long-game of building trust well, one must be wary as with all cryptocurrency “ventures.” Bitcoin is, let us be honest, a world of scams. From mining ventures that disappear to marketplaces that just go into the night.
In this regard, we must begin to consider whether it is time to consider the effects of the constant migration from market to market. For most of us what is desired is the maintenance of a consistent relationship to a vendor. There are, I suspect, few cases where users of such marketplaces veer between vendors. Once one has found a solid supplier there is, as in normal life, a tendency to stick with them. Again there are inherent dangers to this logic, but it how the human mind works: someone supplies what you want three or four times and you will return to them. Likely you will even build a relationship of communication. Not friends, per se, but the kind of service where you will be getting your product shipped fast and have extras included. This brings us to a deeper question. Are we doomed to face these interruptions forever?
This is, perhaps, the question we are all doomed to face. Should we find a market as solid as Agora again? One cannot be certain. Contingency and the deep web are intertwined. In essence, we are beholden not to vendors, from whom we may develop relationships of a sort, but rather to the more mysterious admins from whom we cannot either ask too much (since they take on so much risk knowing the rewards, of course).Sound Opsec ensures we will never quite know who runs these sites unless, as with Silk Road, they go on trial. Here we face a dilemma: we do not wish to expose those who run a site as well-run as those running Agora and yet there is no assurance ever that we can trust this is not a scam. That is the nature of the deep web. Nonetheless, we ought to give a nod to Agora for filling a void when Silk Road collapsed. To their return we can only hope. Until then, recognition.
This article is rhe other side or a counter article for the previously published “OP-ED: Agora, Where’s My BTC (and your consistency), Bitch?”