Innovation

by Mike Masnick


Filed Under:
bittorrent, distributed, social network

Companies:
bittorrent



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.

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  1. identicon
    Ryan Diederich, 12 May 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.

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