Traveling the Silk Road: A measurement analysis of a large anonymous online marketplace

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This article provides a comprehensive analysis of the Silk Road, an anonymous, international online marketplace, which operated as a Tor hidden service that used Bitcoin as its exchange currency. The author gathered and analyzed data over eight months between 2011 and 2012, including daily crawls of the website for almost six months in 2012. The author obtained a detailed picture of the types of goods being sold and of the revenues that were being made by both sellers and Silk Road operators. The author examined over 24,000 separate items sold on the website. The article further discusses some of the economic and policy implications of its analysis and results, including ethical considerations for future research in this area.

This article will be of use to PVE researchers and practitioners interested in understanding the emergence and existence of online marketplaces. Although the subject of the article, Silk Road, has since been shut down, it nevertheless provides insight into the way that online marketplaces can exist and operate. Online marketplaces have become a critical source of both revenue and materials acquired by terrorist and extremist groups. This article is a useful addition to Jamie Bartlett’s work on the Dark Net, which is also available in this portal. 

Nicolas Christin

November 2012