Could BitTorrent Be The Distributed Social Network People Have Been Clamoring For?

from the it's-got-the-distribution... dept

One of the key things we've been noting over the past few months is how many more people are beginning to recognize the benefits of having systems and services that really are more distributed and decentralized, rather than very centralized. The problems with centralized systems should be obvious: not only are there single points of failure where a single mistake can knock out the entire system, but it also puts a single party in control as well. And that can lead to problems, say, when it comes to handing over private information to the government (or companies) without proper legal process.

Among the areas that have grown up with very centralized systems are various social networks, such as Facebook. In response, there's definitely been a call for alternative, more open and more distributed social networking systems, such as Diaspora, which has received a ton of hype, but still has a long, long way to go.

But could another player enter the space and have the infrastructure in place to make it work? It appears that BitTorrent is betting yes. The company is launching its new, much more user friendly Chrysalis interface for its software, which really goes a long way in moving the software towards being a media manager program:
But that's not what's really interesting here. It appears that BitTorrent is effectively trying to move into the distributed social networking space, while also disrupting the business models of various cloud storage offerings at the same time (a twofer!). On the social networking side of the game, the company recognizes that a big part of the success of Facebook is in sharing personal content such as photos and movies, so it's building off of its underlying technology to let groups and individuals create "channels" in which such content can be shared (not in a weakly compressed format either, but fully) and commented on:


If it works, you could see some pretty compelling ideas come to life. For example, it would be easy to build a group around, say, a wedding or a party, and have all attendees easily share their photos and videos from that event, allowing everyone to comment on them, etc. And it could work entirely using the BitTorrent infrastructure underneath -- meaning more efficient and often faster distribution of the content. The channels can be shared widely or narrowly, depending on users' preferences.

And it's all done in a distributed manner.

That point is where it starts to get pretty interesting. There were recently all of those concerns about Dropbox, but you could see how something like this might provide a very compelling alternative.

That's not to say there aren't huge challenges. While the company has a massive installed base for its technology, many of its users probably have never thought about BitTorrent in this context, and it's not always so easy to enact that kind of context and perception shift. The product is also still early and may be lacking in some random "killer" feature that really makes it catch on. However, it does strike me as really intriguing, and as more and more examples of problems with more centralized systems spring up, you could definitely see more people gravitating to a distributed solution like BitTorrent's. On top of that, the company is working hard to get its software embedded directly into a variety of consumer electronics offerings, making it easier to have the necessary software installed to make use of some of these new sharing features. Finally, as part of the process, the company has also made it really easy to share content even with those who don't already have a BitTorrent client installed -- setting up what's effectively a one-click email download "package," so if you want to send a bunch of pictures to your family, for example, they'll get an email that has them download the client software, prepopulated with the channel in question with all the photos.

As someone who thinks it's important to have more distributed systems and get further away from relying on single centralized systems with too much control, but who's also been skeptical of previous attempts at such distributed systems, I have to say that this is a lot more interesting and compelling.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    fogbugzd (profile), May 12th, 2011 @ 10:25am

    Bittorrent has a huge following on college campuses. That is where Facebook started.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
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    Chris ODonnell (profile), May 12th, 2011 @ 10:26am

    OMG! They are making it easier to to share files. Pirates! Bad! Evil!

    More seriously, is it placing your content in the cloud, so to speak, or is it sharing it off your hard drive, like torrents work today?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
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    Mike42 (profile), May 12th, 2011 @ 10:35am

    I see problems...

    The first problem with this is that ISP's are throttling and even blocking bitTorent ports. The second problem is that this would allow mobile users a work around for their usage caps: if they can Wifi their content locally, they won't 3G/4G it, and ATT won't get their massive overage tax. Plus, people could start a private, volunteer Wifi network with no government or ISP oversite whatsoever. The broadband and entertainment industries aren't going to take that sitting down.
    This is where I have a contention with Mr. Masnick. if there are no net neutrality rules, and considering a large proportion of broadband in the US is monopolized, how can this technology take hold?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
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    Hephaestus (profile), May 12th, 2011 @ 10:39am

    Now all they need to do is create an app for distributed websites, encrypted onion routing, and distributed website search, to uTorrent and it puts an end to all this domain seizure-monitoring-DNS blocking-etc crap forever.

    The PirateBay there is an uTorrent app for that ....

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
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    Hephaestus (profile), May 12th, 2011 @ 10:42am

    Re: I see problems...

    "if there are no net neutrality rules, and considering a large proportion of broadband in the US is monopolized, how can this technology take hold?"

    The app you see displayed above (uTorrent) had 100 million unique users online a month back. I think they have the "taking hold" piece figured out already.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 12th, 2011 @ 10:43am

    Workaround??

    Is there any way to create a wireless network that is not out side of the government's (read corporations) control?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7.  
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    The Groove Tiger (profile), May 12th, 2011 @ 10:48am

    I'm all for a distributed BitTorrent social network, as long as people can't see on my wall that I'm pirating the latest episode of Dr. House or SGU.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
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    Chosen Reject (profile), May 12th, 2011 @ 10:53am

    Re: I see problems...

    This is where I have a contention with Mr. Masnick. if there are no net neutrality rules
    Net neutrality rules are a bandaid. Sure, if you aren't going to fix the real underlying problem, then I'm all for net neutrality rules. However, none of that is needed if you fix the real problem; lack of competition.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
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    sumquy (profile), May 12th, 2011 @ 11:07am

    Re: I see problems...

    why do you assume that it is only mobile internet that has usage caps. check recent stories.

     

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  10.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 12th, 2011 @ 11:09am

    So this is what Vuze has been aiming for with that weird new UI? I always switch back to the classic Azureus UI.

     

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  11.  
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    Chronno S. Trigger (profile), May 12th, 2011 @ 11:15am

    Re:

    SGU is over, they can't see you pirating it. :P

    If this proves to be successful (even if it doesn't) it's a step to distributed websites. It's not much more to make a system where you can put your own files up to be distributed to everyone.

    On an unrelated note, why hasn't anyone made anything like dropbox but built ontop of Bittorent? That way you don't have to worry about your storage cap.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
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    Mike Masnick (profile), May 12th, 2011 @ 11:18am

    Re:

    More seriously, is it placing your content in the cloud, so to speak, or is it sharing it off your hard drive, like torrents work today?

    It's both... basically, it copies it up into the cloud and pulls it from your hard drive -- whichever is the best connection...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
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    Chronno S. Trigger (profile), May 12th, 2011 @ 11:36am

    Re: Re:

    When you say cloud you truly mean cloud unlike dropbox where it's really a client server thing (As are most so called cloud things). In this case the cloud would be all your friends PCs or possibly everyone's PCs depending on how it's setup. Possibly a RAID kinda thing where part of the data is here, part is there unlike torrents where everything is everywhere unless actively being downloaded.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
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    zegota (profile), May 12th, 2011 @ 11:46am

    I don't see it. The only reason any regular user would care whether or not a service is "distributed" is if the service is regularly knocked down, which Facebook isn't (I think it's been down once or twice in the past few years).

    Friendster and MySpace were much more fleeting than Facebook. People didn't have their entire lives -- pictures, relatives, histories -- attached to their social network. But at this point, it's going to take a lot more than a fancy new technology only of interest to techies to get people to reupload the information they've spent years compiling to another service. You're going to need something absolutely earthshattering, or Facebook would need to commit a massive blunder.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 12th, 2011 @ 11:52am

    Sounds interesting. But how does it sit with their big partner - MPAA? Or did they already divorce?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
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    Mike42 (profile), May 12th, 2011 @ 11:56am

    Re: Re: I see problems...

    Totally agree, see rest of quote. The problem is, the bandaid seems to be the only thing people get behind. You really have 2 choices:

    1. Make municipal monopolies illegal
    2. Create net neutrality rules

    If it's not illegal, local governments will continue to do it. It's too cheap and easy (by design).

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
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    Mike42 (profile), May 12th, 2011 @ 12:01pm

    Re: Re: I see problems...

    No, I'm saying that mobile restrictions can be gotten around using this technology. I know first hand about non-mobile caps.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
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    The Groove Tiger (profile), May 12th, 2011 @ 12:03pm

    Re: Re:

    Oh right... that teaches me to wait more than one week to download episodes so I don't have to watch it one at a time. It's Gauntlet time, baby!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
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    Mike42 (profile), May 12th, 2011 @ 12:07pm

    Re: Re: I see problems...

    That's great, up until the big providers start blocking ports and filtering packets. Are you going to be one of the guys who plugs in the wall-wart WiFi repeaters and start an unmonitored web?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
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    Hephaestus (profile), May 12th, 2011 @ 12:08pm

    Re: Re:

    "If this proves to be successful (even if it doesn't) it's a step to distributed websites."

    Maybe you could drop Osiris on top of BitTorrent - uTorrent as an app for the distributed web site. In uTorrent each website would become its own app that you could install.

    As a thought experiment, what do we need bare minimum for a functional distributed web site app?

    -The ability to serve static web pages in a distributed fashion.
    -distributed file system.
    -distributed search function.

    How do we handle public file uploads?
    How do we handle site changes? (public-private key system?)
    ...

    Anything I am missing??

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
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    spatialguru, May 12th, 2011 @ 12:17pm

    coming of age

    The trends also represent a coming of age of the social fabric of internet users. As more rural (that means outside of your city!) users come online, the benefits of decentralisation are becoming more apparent.

    Collaboration and "working together" are important in both rural and urban contexts - but "centralisation" is largely an urban concept, where factors of economies of scales are supposed to shine. What would you prefer - stuck in a quarantine with other sickees or being given your own 10 acres as diversification against contagion? ;-)

    Glad to see the concept being debated from a slightly different angel :)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
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    Mike42 (profile), May 12th, 2011 @ 12:23pm

    Re: Workaround??

    You hit the nail on the head. Almost all of us have Wifi, but almost none of us connect to each other with it. Until we do, this is all just wind in sails.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
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    Hephaestus (profile), May 12th, 2011 @ 12:26pm

    Re: Re:

    By the way, the dropbox idea is brilliant. It would give weblockers, like rapidshare, a run for their money. As the industry shills and trolls are so used to saying "You can't compete with free". ;)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 12th, 2011 @ 1:04pm

    I praise the distributed model of this.

    But I question the lack of anonymity built into the client. Let's be real, torrents have been used to skirt the legal purchase of many forms of media. Most people do not want their illegal activities known to the general public, and they are betting on "IP addresses" being semi-anonymous helping them succeed.

    I'll admit it's a good start. I like that I can put up thousands of pictures of my kids and share with my dad if he has a client, and there's no terms of service I have to deal with in terms of limitations of how much data I host (other than my ISP)

    Will watch this closely, because I hate the "Cloud," Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Apple, and I don't think any of our computing should be proxied through any single entity other than the Internet.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25.  
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    Nicedoggy, May 12th, 2011 @ 1:16pm

    Re: Workaround??

    You may want to search for Netsukuku.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26.  
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    Nicedoggy, May 12th, 2011 @ 1:21pm

    Re: Re: I see problems...

    To fix that problem you need to change the laws that allow those other people to create a market that is not competitive in the first place.
    So we got a problem there.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27.  
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    Nicedoggy, May 12th, 2011 @ 1:22pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    I believe OMEMO is what you are looking for.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 12th, 2011 @ 1:38pm

    Re:

    Facebook was not earthshattering compared to myspace, and myspace was not earthshattering compared to AOL.

    What it could take is a massive breach on facebook's network where a significant portion of people are dramatically negatively impacted by their profiles, en masse. It could take years, but eventually enough people will be harmed by the data they hold on facebook (willingly or not) where their lives will be worse for having been a member. It is that day when their membership will slip and fall.

    Nobody should be putting their eggs in one basket, certainly not a corporate entity where their bottom line is far more important than individual members' privacy or data.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29.  
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    Mike42 (profile), May 12th, 2011 @ 1:39pm

    Re: Re: Workaround??

    Thanks for the info!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30.  
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    Nicedoggy, May 12th, 2011 @ 1:40pm

    Re: Workaround??

    http://www.servalproject.org/

    Also there is this project.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 12th, 2011 @ 1:42pm

    Didn't Limewire (rip) release this same feature like 2 years ago? I can't say I have high hopes for Bittorrent being able to succeed here.

    Here's that Limewire social network story: http://news.cnet.com/8301-13772_3-10137030-52.html

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32.  
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    rob frost, May 12th, 2011 @ 1:45pm

    Long live the Mesh!

    Awesome article.

    I am so excited about decentralized being the future of the net, not just with respect to p2p and social networks but on a physical network level where ultimately a free mesh internet could spring up in parallel to the net, that is accessible without having to go through an ISP.

    The ISP's are gatekeepers at the moment.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33.  
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    Mark, May 12th, 2011 @ 3:04pm

    Errm, isn't this just

    Opera Unite?

    Which is really smart system that's already well established.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  34.  
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    aldestrawk (profile), May 12th, 2011 @ 4:52pm

    Why P2P?

    Mike, you are advocating a distributed and decentralized internet but you have to look more closely at how the internet is currently decentralized and why a P2P architecture has advantages, if any, over other alternatives. Redundancy has been built into large websites by using multiple servers and load sharing between them as well as by using content delivery networks (CDNs). The most common mistake that brings down a website is a software update that wasn't field tested, and a bug brings everything down. It is quite conceivable that a software update, while using a P2P architecture, could be equally effective in bringing the site down. There are many ways to build in redundancy. As far as being a more efficient technology, multicast addressing is certainly more efficient than P2P. IP multicast is already used for stock exchanges and some CDNs. IRC also uses multicast, albeit not IP multicast. A major disadvantage of P2P is that it can cause home routers to crash by overloading the NAT tables. If P2P comes into use for more things, that part of the infrastructure is going to have to be fixed. Finally, while having information not being controlled by a single entity is a desirable goal, I am not sure that P2P solves that issue completely.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  35.  
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    Andez, May 12th, 2011 @ 5:07pm

    Great ideas here!!! But there was this thing called 'google wave' haha it's got the drop box/collaboration thing happening for it, without the huge social side. It just went under because it wasn't as clearly explained as this bit torrent idea. They marketed it as 'OMGZ THIS IZ THE NEW EMAILZ GUYZ!!!' when in reality it's just another interface. Wave is actually useful (surprise!) I still use it to collaborate, unfortunately it wont be around much longer.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  36.  
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    Ryan Diederich, May 12th, 2011 @ 8:55pm

    Theres a million reasons

    that a distributed network would be more ideal. Speed, protection from govt and MPAA/RIAA type agencies.

    Storage space is cheap. I dont think cloud computing will EVER catch on without significant breakthroughs in internet speed (at least in the US). Its very efficient to store your own data. A 2 terabyte harddrive is now less than $200. Ill be able to buy a 16TB for the samed price in 6 years.

    Easy cloud computing killer? I want to watch my HD movie right now GO. It cant even come close to happening yet. BluRay discs are 50gb. Even buffering the entire time, that breaks down to 50gb in 2 hours or 7Mb/s. Now Im sure some users on here have that speed, cities and places with fiber, but I sure as hell dont.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  37.  
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    John Smith, May 13th, 2011 @ 1:33am

    Re:

    Good news, there aren't going to be any more episodes of SGU. Guess you don't have to worry about that one (unless the campaign to save it succeeds, click my name).

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  38.  
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    Jose_X, May 14th, 2011 @ 8:17am

    Re:

    I don't know how they work, but all you need for a distributed system is for each item to have a unique id locatable from the Internet (or at least from those with whom you have given access). Since many people are not always online and may not find friends to cross-share their data so that someone is always online, many 3rd parties will be in a position to also host such data (clear bits for example). The data can be encrypted since only those you authorize need have the key to view it.

    Another issue is that many people have closed ports, so mutual third party "friends" are sometimes needed whenever two people want to engage in a private p2p "conversation". They can each automatically dial up the mutual friend and have their conversation be passed through to each other. IM can work this way. Either you keep a connection open with the mutual friend, or you send out a query periodically to see if someone is waiting to send you a message.

    Torrents are optimal for very large files but generally talking p2p so that your PC can engage with someone else's in many ways does not require the bittorrent protocol (and it would not be efficient.. and wouldn't even make sense when the conversation is just among a few people).

    Hopefully, I'll eventually get to writing something like this up within a custom Linux Distro.. to have various apps be able to talk to each other and share more intimately (where authorization has been given and across an interface that considers security concerns). OTOH, by the time I get to it, it might be old news.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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