Will There Be A New Bittorrent?

from the time-to-get-working-on-it dept

At the end of October one of the admins of the world's largest Bittorrent site sat down for an interview and predicted the protocol's demise. Citing Bittorrent, Inc.'s corporate ties and some technical limitations, brokep announced that The Pirate Bay was working on a new protocol to succeed Bram Cohen's Bittorrent. The idea's been percolating throughout the filesharing scene since then: a small survey of top site admins conducted by TorrentFreak found opinion divided over whether Bittorrent will be replaced.

It's true that the protocol's been asked to do things that its creator didn't envision. Clients now use encryption to get around ISP traffic shaping and sometimes pad files to improve interoperability with other networks. DHT functionality, which removes the need for a central tracker, was implemented in a chaotic, piecemeal fashion. Private trackers have to monkey around with torrents' announce URLs in order to monitor individual users' activity. Torrent files lack metadata. Traversing firewalls remains an issue. And various researchers have created custom clients that prove the protocol can be subverted by selfish users. There are tacked-on, vulnerable and subpar aspects to the way Bittorrent works — plenty of room for improvement, in other words.

But assuming a technically superior standard is produced, will it be adopted? It's easy to find examples for and against: the Ogg Vorbis audio codec offers better sound quality than MP3, no licensing entanglements, and several awfully-cool features (like the ability to reduce a file's size without reencoding it). But Ogg has never really caught on. Some users employ the also-technically-superior WMA and AAC formats, but only to the extent that Microsoft and Apple force them. For most users, MP3 seems to be good enough. On the other hand, online video has adopted new codecs almost as soon as they become available, moving from VCD to SVCD to MPEG to DivX to Xvid and beyond. The situation's so complex that utilities exist for the sole purpose of untangling a given AVI's miasma of codecs.

What makes these cases differ? It all comes down to timing: consumers will switch technical standards so long as doing so carries few costs (i.e. only requires that more free software be downloaded). Ogg Vorbis hadn't attracted enough attention by the time portable MP3 players arrived. Once the supply chain for MP3 decoding chips was established and a generation of compatible players purchased, the game was pretty well decided. By comparison, only a handful of exotic DVD players bother to support the video formats commonly found on P2P networks. Most portable digital video players still count on users recompressing their files to save space and conserve CPU cycles. Once there's an established infrastructure — of either hardware, accumulated code or simple corporate momentum — consumers may stick with suboptimal technical standards. But prior to that point, users will stay close to the cutting edge.

Bittorrent seems to be on the cusp of this transition. Some hardware devices are coming to market with the standard baked in, but not too many. Various organizations like Miro, Joost and Blizzard Software are building parts of their business around the protocol, but not in an irreversible manner. If Bittorrent gains much more attention, its supporting infrastructure of trackers and open source projects will likely trump whatever advantages a new standard can offer. But I think that there remains a window of opportunity for elite users to popularize a new protocol, should they settle on one. Brokep and his peers still have a few months to steal BT's thunder.

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Filed Under: bittorrent
Companies: pirate bay


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  1. identicon
    Shun, 19 Nov 2007 @ 10:36pm

    video codecs are not p2p protocols

    Whining about whether x264 or h264 is superior is not going to get us a better p2p system. Also, the person who said streaming is being implemented for home systems (#9) is extremely optimistic. There is no way that the telco/cableco duopoly is going to approach the 10/100 speeds of home users. We aren't talking about streaming movies and music across the house. This is about moving data across continents.

    Where do you live, Japan?

    OK, well, for us lepers living in the U.S.A., we need to radically reform the ISP landscape. Barring that, we "need" to introduce a new form of p2p which takes into account or real-world issues with the duopoly:

    1. asymmetric download/upload speed. This could be fixed by upgrading your connection, but the duopoly might get suspicious. Best to compromise government web pages, and stick your own content on them. Like anyone ever checks those old pages, anyway.

    2. Surveillance/interference with torrent downloads/uploads. The obvious answer is encryption and tunneling through a more universal protocol, like https or ssh. ISP's would have to use some form of traffic analysis in order to figure out what p2p users were doing. Encryption would protect privacy of individuals, but effective traffic analysis could cause torrent download/upload degradation (with comparable degradation in use of Lotus Notes)

    3. Trackerless. This needs to be done. The RIAA/MPAA are attacking tracker sites. Trackers/DHT should be built right into the application. That's what I liked about limewire's interface. You could do search and download all in one GUI. Bit-torrent is more clunky because it's two steps (now, where did I download that .torrent file?)

    4. Avoid poisoning/spying by machines in the middle of the cloud. This has already happening (MediaDefender), and we need to "legally" prevent this from happening. I heard that you could incorporate this into the EULA. Anyone who uses a "new torrent" type program should be forced to click on an "I Agree" button that states: "I will not use this program to spy on or as a pretext to initiate litigation against any other user." We'll see how that holds up in court.

    5. Backwards compatibility. This might not be possible or desirable, but for some, it might be nice to be able to download .torrent files using the new protocol, and get the same effect. Basically, opening up the torrent file from within the "new program" would open up a bit-torrent module, and it would do all of the "old school" bit-torrent things. Happy tracking.

    The most important pieces will probably be the trackerless and the encryption. For additional thoughts (and insight into where I got my ideas), see here .

    I don't think Pirate Bay, alone, is going to solve all of this. Right now, there is not sense of "Oh My God! They're coming to get us!!!" But...come on, people! This is computer science. Don't you just want to tinker, because it's fun? Isn't anyone curious about the next generation p2p engine? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?

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