Dave Winer on P2P … and the Google API … and BitTorrent

From Dave Winer's post, 'Yahoo game-changers for 2006':

P2P webcasting. I wrote about this vaguely the other day, and no one apparently understood what I meant by Skype for webcasting. Come on guys, it’s pretty simple. Suppose we’re having a conversation, and I decide “Wow, this would be great for Scripting News, let’s do a webcast of this right now.” So I whip out my laptop, get onto the net (there’s wifi everywhere of course, heh) and launch my Yahoo Webcaster desktop app for the Mac. I choose New Webcast from the File menu. A window opens. There’s a button that says “Copy URL to clipboard.” I click it. Go over to my outliner, paste it into a post on Scripting News. “Tune into this webcast I’m about to do with Bull Mancuso about intellectual property and organized crime.” I highlight the word webcast and click on Add Link. Save. Then I go back to the Yahoo app and click Start. We talk for ten minutes, all the while people tune into the stream, which is managed via a realtime BitTorrent-like P2P connection. And of course when it’s all done it’s automatically archived to an MP3 and included in my RSS 2.0 feed for people who subscribe. If you’ve ever done a webcast, you know how much better this would be. And it’s ready to go, we know how to do all the bits.

And Kevin Marks adds in his comment to Dave's post:

Dave, have a look at GarageBand 3 and iChat. You set up your n-way conversation in iChat, you hit record in GarageBand, and it creates a multitrack recording of it for you with the speakers labelled. You can trim it, adjust levels ad effect, or just dump it out to mp3 straight away.

We should get right down to exploring and using these methods: homegrown webcasting has huge potential for schools and education.

There's much else in Dave's post. I've blogged before about his Clone the Google API proposal. What he told Yahoo! about BitTorrent is surely smack on target, too — and I love this bit of advice:

I said wherever you’re doing something to make another industry happy at the expense of users, switch polarity, immediately, and get on the side of the users. That in itself is the biggest game-change possible.

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The future for BitTorrent

A great piece by Marc Pesce on BitTorrent — what it is and what happens to, and with it, now:

This morning I woke up to find that the torrent had died. Someone - no one knows who - had put enough pressure onto the operators of Suprnova.org and TorrentBits.com to shut them down. SuprNova.org was amazing, the Wal-Mart of torrents, a great big marketplace of piracy, all neatly dished up and aiming to please. You want this new Hollywood release? Here's a recording from someone who smuggled a camcorder into a screening. - How about the latest episode of that hit HBO series? There you go, and no subscription fees to pay. Just fire up your favorite BitTorrent client - BitTornado, Azureus, Tomato, or that good old-fashioned Bram Cohen code. Click on the torrent, and you're up and downloading, sharing what you're getting with hundreds of others. Share and share alike. What could be more friendly? …

If you're just one person with one recording of one show, and it's a popular show, your computer's internet connection is going to get swamped with requests for the show; eventually your computer will crash or you'll take the show off the Internet, just so you can read your email. And in the early days of peer-to-peer, that's how it was. Someone would find a computer with a copy of the song they wanted to listen to, connect to that computer, and download the data. It worked, but anything that got very popular was likely to disappear almost immediately. Popularity was a problem in first-generation peer-to-peer networks.

In November 2002, an unemployed programmer named Bram Cohen decided there had to be a better way, so he spent a few weeks writing an improved version of the protocols used to create peer-to-peer networks, and came up with BitTorrent. BitTorrent is a radical advance over the peer-to-peer systems which preceded it. Cohen realized that popularity is a good thing, and designed BitTorrent to take advantage of it. When a file (movie, music, computer program, it's all just bits) is published on BitTorrent, everyone who wants the file is required to share what they have with everyone else. As you're downloading the file, those parts you've already downloaded are available to other people looking to download the file. This means that you're not just "leeching" the file, taking without giving back; you're also sharing the file with anyone else who wants it. As more people download the file, they offer up what they've downloaded, and so on. As this process rolls on, there are always more and more computers to download the file from. If a file gets very popular, you might be getting bits of it from hundreds of different computers, all over the Internet - simultaneously. This is a very important point, because it means that as BitTorrent files grow in popularity, they become progressively faster to download. Popularity isn't a scourge in BitTorrent - it's a blessing.

It's such a blessing that, as of November, 35% of all traffic on the Internet was BitTorrent-related. Unfortunately, that blessing looks more like a curse if you're the head of a Hollywood studio, trying to fill seats in megaplexes or move millions of units of your latest DVDs releases. And, although BitTorrent is efficient, it isn't designed to make data piracy easy; BitTorrent relies on a lot of information which can be used to trace the location of every single user downloading a file, and, more significantly, it also relies on a centralized "tracker" - a computer program which registers the requests for the file, and tells a requester how to hook up to the tens or hundreds of other computers offering pieces of the file for download.

As any good network engineer knows (and I was a network engineer for over a decade), a single point of failure (a single computer offering a single torrent tracker) is a Bad Thing to have in a network. It's the one shortcoming in Cohen's design for BitTorrent: kill the tracker and you've killed the torrent. But network engineers know better than to design systems with single points of failure: that's one of the reasons the Internet is still around, despite the best efforts of hackers around the world to kill it. Failure in any one part of the Internet is expected and dealt with in short order. Various parts of the Internet fail all the time and you only very rarely notice.

Back to today, when the hammer came down. SuprNova.org and TorrentBits.com each played host to thousands of BitTorrent trackers. When these sites went down the torrents went Poof!, as if they'd never existed. This evening the members of the MPAA must be feeling quite satisfied with themselves - they see this danger as passed; never again will BitTorrent threaten the revenues of the Hollywood studios.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

As Hollywood is so fond of sequels, it seems perfectly fitting that today's suppression of the leading BitTorrent sites bears an uncanny resemblance to an event which took place in July of 2000. Facing a rising sea of lawsuits and numerous court orders demanding an immediate shutdown, the archetypal peer-to-peer service, Napster, pulled the plug on its own servers, silencing the millions of users who used the service as a central exchange to locate songs to download. That should have been the end of that. But it wasn't. Instead, the number of songs traded on the Internet today dwarfs the number traded in Napster's heyday. The suppression of Napster led to a profusion of alternatives - Gnutella, Kazaa, and BitTorrent.

Gnutella is a particularly telling example of how the suppression of a seductive technology (and peer-to-peer file trading is very seductive - ask anyone who's done it) only results in an improved technology taking its place. Instead of relying on a centralized server - a fault that both Napster and BitTorrent share - Gnutella uses a process of discovery to let peers share information with each other about what's available where. The peers in a Gnutella peer-to-peer network self-organize into an occasionally unreliable but undeniably expansive network of content. Because of its distributed nature, shutting down any one Gnutella peer has only a very limited effect on the overall network. One individual's collection of music might evaporate, but there are still tens of thousands of others to pick from. This network of Gnutella peers (and its offspring, such as Kazaa, BearShare, and Acquisition) has been growing since its introduction in 2001, mostly invisibly, but ever more pervasively.

If Napster hadn't been run out of business by the RIAA, it's unlikely that any need for Gnutella would have arisen; if the RIAA hadn't attacked that single point of failure, there'd have been no need to develop a solution which, by design, has no single point to failure. It's as though both sides in the war over piracy and file sharing are engaged in an evolutionary struggle: every time one side comes up with a new strategy, the other side evolves a response to it. This isn't just a cat-and-mouse game; each attack by the RIAA, generates a response of increasing sophistication. And, today, the MPAA has blundered into this arms race. This was, as will soon be seen, a Very Bad Idea.

Pointing up the single greatest weakness of BitTorrent take down the tracker and the torrent dies - has only served to energize, inspire and mobilize the resources of an entire global ecology of software developers, network engineers and hackers-at-large who want nothing so much, at this moment, as to make the MPAA pay for their insolence. Imagine a parent reaching into a child's room and ripping a TV set out of the wall while the child is watching it. That child would feel anger and begin plotting his revenge. And that scene has been multiplied at least hundred thousand times today, all around the world. It is quite likely that, as I type these words, somewhere in the world a roomful of college CS students, fueled by coke and pizza and righteous indignation, are banging out some code which will fix the inherent weakness of BitTorrent - removing the need for a single tracker. If they're smart enough, they'll work out a system of dynamic trackers, which could quickly pass control back and forth among a cloud of peers, so that no one peer holds the hot potato long enough to be noticed. They'll take the best of Gnutella and cross-breed it with the best of BitTorrent. And that will be the MPAA's worst nightmare.

Hey, Hollywood! Can you feel the future slipping through your fingers? Do you understand how badly you've screwed up? You took a perfectly serviceable situation - a nice, centralized system for the distribution of media, and, through your own greed and shortsightedness, are giving birth to a system of digital distribution that you'll never, ever be able to defeat. In your avarice and arrogance you ignored the obvious: you should have cut a deal with SuprNova.org. In partnership you could have found a way to manage the disruptive change that's already well underway. Instead, you have repeated the mistakes made by the recording industry, chapter and verse. And thus you have spelled your own doom.

It's said that the best sequels are just like the original, only bigger and louder. Ladies and gentlemen, prepare yourselves for one hell of a crash. This baby is now fully out of control.

This from Susan Mernit, via Boing Boing


via Unmediated:

  • BBC Radio today announced that a trial of an MP3 downloading service, which saw 70,000 downloads of Radio 4’s In Our Time programme in November, had been a massive success. MediaWeek
  • blinkx.tv — 'allows you to search the web for video and audio clips. Unlike other search providers, blinkx TV not only lets you search using standard keyword and Boolean queries but you can also use conceptual search. This type of search is provided by blinkx only, and allows you to enter normal text for which blinkx TV will return results whose content is conceptually similar to your search text.'
  • P2P TV: Guido Ciburski, a television software engineer, wants to launch Cybersky, a Web service that aims to do for TV what already applies to music and video, which can be downloaded free from the internet. At the end of January, his company, TC Unterhaltungselektronic, will unveil its Cybersky TV web service which will enable broadband users to distribute video programmes free, and exchange them with others. Unmediated
  • Lifestyle governs mobile choice: Consumers are far more interested in how handsets fit in with their lifestyle than they are in screen size, onboard memory or the chip inside, shows an in-depth study by telecommunications company Ericsson. "Historically in the industry there has been too much focus on using technology," said Dr Michael Bjorn, senior advisor on mobile media at Ericsson's consumer and enterprise lab. "We have to stop saying that these technologies will change their lives," he said. "We should try to speak to consumers in their own language and help them see how it fits in with what they are doing," he told the BBC News website. … Dr Bjorn said that people also used their camera phones in very different ways to film and even digital cameras. "Usage patterns for digital cameras are almost exactly replacing usage patterns for analogue cameras," he said. Digital cameras tend to be used on significant events such as weddings, holidays and birthdays. By contrast, he said, camera phones were being used much more to capture a moment and were being woven into everyday life. BBC News
  • mozilla is planning to release a version of Minimo (Mini-Mozilla browser for portable devices) for mobile phones.
    "Due out in January of 2005, the 0.3 version of Minimo is already in use by two mobile phone companies, however they cannot release their names due to an embargo. Mozilla Firefox has been taking over the share of Internet Explorer users very quickly, Minimo on the other hand, will be much harder to bring to market since manufacturers make the choice as to which browser to use, rather than consumers." Unmediated

The true significance of P2P

In all the coverage here in the UK of the British Phonographic Society, our equivalent of the RIAA, and its declared intention to prosecute a small number of big-time file-sharers, little has been written in the traditional press, or aired on traditional radio, that shows any commanding grasp of the issues and the technology involved. John Naughton, as ever, is a great exception and his Observer article (dated today) is a fine illustration of his knowledge and perspicacity:

... a UK start-up called CacheLogic has come up with technology that enables ISPs to get a detailed analysis of network traffic. Over the last six months, CacheLogic has used this technology in collaboration with a range of big ISPs, and from this has derived what it claims is the first detailed empirical analysis of contemporary net traffic.

The findings are fascinating. They suggest that P2P is now the largest single generator of traffic; that it significantly outweighs web traffic; and that it continues to grow. P2P traffic volumes are at least double those of web traffic during the peak evening periods and 10 times greater at other times. The significance of this is not that the efforts of content industries to plug the dyke are doomed (though they are), but that when people look back on the evolution of the net, P2P will be seen as the biggest innovation since the web's invention in 1990.

It may come as news to the BPS and RIAA, but the sharing of music files is the least significant application of P2P. For example, Skype - the sensational internet telephony software that enables anyone with a broadband connection to make freephone calls to anyone else similarly equipped - is a P2P application. So is instant messaging, which is spreading like wildfire. So is LionShare - a project started by Penn State University to create a series of networks for sharing scholarly information among academics. And BitTorrent - the best system yet devised for distributing large files (for example new releases of operating systems) - is likewise P2P.

P2P networking technology is taking over the net for one simple and compelling reason: it makes abundant sense. There are millions of PCs connected to the net. Most of the time they are doing nothing. But they represent a massive, untapped reserve of computing power and storage resources.

P2P is a way of harnessing these resources. Of course, like every other technology from the medical syringe to the camcorder and the automobile, it has unsavoury uses. But those abuses do not provide a justification for a few threatened industries to squash the technology. There are more important things in life than the bonuses of record company executives. P2P is the future; they belong to the past.