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BitTorrent Taking Off

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Profile of BitTorrent developer Bram Cohen in the NY Times:

    AFTER working for a parade of doomed dot-com startups, a young programmer named Bram Cohen finally got tired of failure.

    “I decided I finally wanted to work on a project that people would actually use, would actually work and would actually be fun,” he recalled.

    Three years later, Mr. Cohen, 28, has emerged as the face of the next wave of Internet file sharing. If Napster started the first generation of file-sharing, and services like Kazaa represented the second, then the system developed by Mr. Cohen, known as BitTorrent, may well be leading the third. Firm numbers are difficult to come by, but it appears that the BitTorrent software has been downloaded more than 10 million times.

    And just as earlier forms of file-sharing seem to be waning in popularity under legal pressure from the music industry, new technologies like BitTorrent are making it easier than ever to share and distribute the huge files used for video. One site alone, suprnova.org, routinely offers hundreds of television programs, recent movies and copyrighted software programs. The movie industry, among others, has taken notice.

    ….he was intrigued by a problem familiar to many Internet users and felt acutely by friends who were trading music online legally: the excruciating wait while files were being downloaded.

    “Obviously their problem was not enough bandwidth to meet demand,” Mr. Cohen said in an interview at a Mexican restaurant near his home in Seattle. “It seemed pretty clear to me that there is a lot of bandwidth out there, but it’s not being used properly. There’s all of this upload capacity that people aren’t using.”

    ….BitTorrent, however, uses what could be called a Golden Rule principle: the faster you upload, the faster you are allowed to download. BitTorrent cuts up files into many little pieces, and as soon as a user has a piece, they immediately start uploading that piece to other users. So almost all of the people who are sharing a given file are simultaneously uploading and downloading pieces of the same file (unless their downloading is complete).

    The practical implication is that the BitTorrent system makes it easy to distribute very large files to large numbers of people while placing minimal bandwidth requirements on the original “seeder.” That is because everyone who wants the file is sharing with one another, rather than downloading from a central source.

    ….”This past September I had, like, no money,” he recalled. “I was just scraping along and doing the credit card thing again.”

    But unknown to Mr. Cohen, BitTorrent was serving as a job application. Out of the blue, he heard from Gabe Newell, the managing director of Valve Software, based in nearby Bellevue, Wash. Valve is developing what gaming experts anticipate will be a blockbuster video game, Half-Life 2, but it is also creating an online distribution network that it calls Steam. Because of Mr. Cohen’s expertise in just that area, Valve offered him a job. He moved to Seattle and started work in October.

    ….”I think Bram is going to be like Shawn Fanning in terms of the impact this is going to have,” said Steve Hormell, a co-founder of etree.org, a music-trading site that predates the file-sharing phenomenon, referring to the inventor of the original Napster service. “It is a bit of paradigm shift and I can’t stress the community aspect of it enough. You have to give back in order to get. Going back 15 years, that’s what the Internet was all about until the suits came along.”

    ….For his part, Mr. Cohen pointed out that BitTorrent users are not anonymous and that their numeric Internet addresses are easily viewable by anyone who cares. “It amazes me that sites like Suprnova continue to stay up, because it would be so easy to sue them,” he said. Using BitTorrent for illegal trading, he added, is “patently stupid because it’s not anonymous, and it can’t be made anonymous because it’s fundamentally antithetical to the architecture.”

I would love to hear reports from BitTorrent users.

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About Eric Olsen

Career media professional and serial entrepreneur Eric Olsen flung himself into the paranormal world in 2012, creating the America's Most Haunted brand and co-authoring the award-winning America's Most Haunted book, published by Berkley/Penguin in Sept, 2014. Olsen is co-host of the nationally syndicated broadcast and Internet radio talk show After Hours AM; his entertaining and informative America's Most Haunted website and social media outlets are must-reads: Twitter@amhaunted, Facebook.com/amhaunted, Pinterest America's Most Haunted. Olsen is also guitarist/singer for popular and wildly eclectic Cleveland cover band The Props.
  • It’s an excellent file sharing program, my second favorite one next to Soulseek. Obviously, a lot of people use it to trade commerically available movies and TV shows, but it’s also good if you’re looking for canceled television shows or obscure movies that haven’t made it to DVD. Also, the fact that bittorrent sites have administrators and user feedback means its much less likely you’ll download any mislabeled or corrupted files. It’s not as easy to use as other file sharing programs, but it is one file sharing program that big media companies shoud be scared of.

  • Eric Olsen

    Thanks Chris!

  • Robert Brandt

    Very cool to see Cohen getting some ink!

    I’ve been torrenting over at Sharingthegroove.org for nearly a year now. That site is very strict on it’s non-commercial policy (read: 95% live stuff), but it’s huge. There may be dozens of new concerts available for sharing in the span of a couple hours some days. It’s a great avenue for tapers and collectors alike.

  • Bittorrent is the perfect opportunity for the video (cable, teevee, movies) business to solve their video-on-demand problem. The question is, will they act like the music business or will they see this as a solution to their problems?

    Currently (just like MP3s a couple of years ago) you couldn’t buy a download of a video or disc image. What a company like, say Blockbuster could do is team up with cable and DSL providers to offer fee based trackers (the servers which handle the up/downloading management of all the connected clients), you get charged for what you download, and credited for what you upload. One site I use has a points system, you get credits for what you seed, which you then spend to download.

    Since the files (generally divx and mpeg4) don’t offer the same bells and whistles or package as DVD, they are a great compliment.

    Bittorrent solves the bandwidth problem which has made video-on-demand unscalable since it works better the more people are using it.

    Offer a PVR with embedded Bittorrent, and the video business has the new VCR tape which saved their lives in the 80s. The question is, are they smart enough to take advantage of this opportunity?

    The success of P2P shows there is a customer base if you are willing to sell them what they want to buy at a fair market price (which is set by what I download minus my fee for my uploaded bandwidth).

    The broadcast industry gets a real metric for their audience, freedom from the insanity which is scheduling and seasons, and real syndication of their content.

    And did I mention Bittorrent is just like crack?

    (and speaking of increasing bandwidth, I just realized Safari has a spelling checker).