Next steps for BitTorrent

Early this year, I put my stake in the ground and said: “There’s no doubt that when we write the year-end pieces for 2006, BitTorrent is going to be at or near the top of the list of technologies that made a difference.” I stand by the prediction.

Recent milestones

Here are a few milestones, small but significant steps that pave the way for larger and more significant ones.

1. Amazon ships S3, a public utility storage system, with native, automatic BitTorrent support. You can access any object in the the S3 store through BitTorrent as easily as you access it over HTTP. All the details are taken care of automatically. This is the prototype for server-side BitTorrent support — completely automatic and transparent.

2. Opera ships version 8.0.2 of its browser, with built-in BitTorrent support. Now, downloading something via BitTorrent is no more complicated for the user than clicking on an HTTP or FTP link. There’s no extra software to run.

3. On Marc Canter’s blog I just read that a software company that he admires is shipping “commercial grade” BitTorrent. It’s hard to figure out what the product is from the website, but if Marc thinks it’s good, then it must be. (Please explain in concise terms what services you provide. Thanks.)

Next steps for BitTorrent

1. Amazon must have competition, from other back-end service providers, such as Yahoo, Microsoft, eBay, etc. There’s nothing wrong with their service, the API is reasonable, but Amazon has a history of patenting stuff that we really need to not be patented. By having second sources, we are assured that Amazon will not likely use BitTorrent as a way of locking us in.

2. It would be especially nice if Apple and Microsoft built BitTorrent support into the Macintosh and Windows operating systems, with simple APIs that made it easy for all software running on these two popular platforms to add client and server BitTorrent support. It goes without saying that all popular flavors of Unix should also have easy-to-integrate BitTorrent libraries.

3. BitTorrent and Firefox were made for each other. If every Firefox user had easy to configure (with good defaults) BitTorrent support, we’d be 90 percent of the way there.

4. We more good non-infringing content. I’ve asked the RocketBoom folk to create packages each containing a month of Rocketboom, available over BitTorrent. These would be sizable downloads, it’s great stuff, and no one can argue that they don’t have the right to distribut it this way, nor can they argue that we don’t have a right to download it.

5. We need a podcatcher that supports BitTorrent, seamlessly, with good defaults. It seems unlikely that Apple will add this to iTunes, because of their close relationship with Hollywood; same with Microsoft and their iTunes challenger which is no doubt coming soon. The Rocketboom folks say that FireAnt has good BitTorrent support, but it’s missing a key feature (it should keep seeding a file for a while after it’s been fully downloaded). This is a big opportunity for any podcatcher developer who isn’t in bed with the entertainment industry to differentiate their offering from Apple’s.

Summary

Breadth of support is the most important thing BitTorrent needs. We need easier and more servers and clients, more non-infringing content, and more commitments from the tech industry, government, and eventually, of course, the entertainment industry. It’s a very rational, open technology, quite useful, and with a little more effort it will become a fixture in the toolkit for Internet developers, publishers and users.

24 responses to this post.

  1. [...] Essay: Next steps for BitTorrent.  [...]

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  2. Posted by John Tyler on April 24, 2006 at 10:32 am

    iPodderX (soon to be Transistr) has had BitTorrent support for as long as I can remember. And it “just works.” There’s no configuration, no managing. It treats BitTorrent files like any other straight http download. Very cool, IMO.

    Reply

  3. I believe the DotNetRocks guys might be working on a .NET based BitTorrent catcher. Right now it’s either vapor- or alphaware, but they have been discussing it over the course of several shows anyway.

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  4. There is a nice plugin for iTunes that adds bit torrent support with a bit of hacking called iTorrent (http://www.itorrent.cc/). It basically sits between iTunes and the RSS feed and sends the Bit Torrent content back to iTunes once it has downloaded.

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  5. GetRight 6 ( http://www.getright.com/beta6.html ) supports podcasts & BitTorrent. It also supports metalink ( http://www.metalinker.org/ ) which is an XML file for segmented downloads from hybrid mirror/P2P sources. Could be nice for podcasts.

    Reply

  6. Dave, sorry to be off-topic but that is a really cool looking new header graphic you have over on scripting.com. Also couldn’t help but notice MS is trying to fix you up with a partner! ;)

    Reply

  7. [...] Dave has some interesting things to say about bittorrent. [...]

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  8. Posted by Elle on April 24, 2006 at 2:01 pm

    Dave

    Two things will hold back BitTorrent support.

    Most users don’t understand what it does, and if they do, they probably don’t care.

    Big content publishers use established reliable, fast content delivery networks.

    It seems like the person who benefits most from the legit use of BitTorrent is the indie podcast publisher that gets Slashdotted/dugg/etc. How’s that going to drive adoption?

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  9. Hmmm, I thought 2005 was a significant year for BitTorrent. Some good points in here, particularly the need for legal content/distribution. I’m sure I’ve read articles stating that Bram Cohen was staying on the good side of big studios, so you never know. I’m getting broadband soon and I’m sure as hell getting a good BitTorrent client as well!

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  10. We also need some help on the publishing end. Blog software has got quite good at one click publishing of rich media files and then automatically adding them to the RSS/Atom feeds. We need to make BitTorrent publishing as easy and simple. There’s work to be done here to integrate the sort of approach at http://www.blogtorrent.com/ into mainstream blog software. Critical I think is to:-
    - Hide the complexity of creating the torrent
    - Having the web end automatically seed so there’s always a full seed available
    - Having the client end stay online and guarantee 100% sharing from everyone who downloads.

    WordPress developers! Are you listening?

    Reply

  11. [...] Dave Winer over at Dave’s WordPress Blog has written an editorial on the Next Steps for Bittorrent. [...]

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  12. [...] Dave Winer says Bittorrent is about to explode and he suggests what’s needed. I agree with him and have one more thing I think is needed (and I doubt whether Dave will agree): [...]

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  13. [...] Terry Heaton, one of the nicest and most caring men I have met in this world, told his friends online today about a tragedy in his life: the sudden loss of his beloved wife, Alicia. Only a few days ago, Terry wrote one of his wonderful essays, this one about days that changed his life. Go read No. 10. I know that the thoughts and prayers of Terry’s many friends online are with him today. [...]

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  14. [Ouch. Sorry to hear about Terry Heaton's loss.]

    Re Bittorrent: experiences of a somewhat technically adept enduser here. I run Linux (Core 3) and Firefox. I simply couldn’t get bittorrent working without turning off every security feature on my computer and/or router, so that was a non-starter. Same thing on Windows XP. I know thousands of people run bittorrent with no difficulty, so I know I’m doing something wrong, and it does make me feel like an idiot that I can’t figure it out. But this is just to point out that Dave’s comment about ease of installation and use is right on the money. All bittorrent needs is an easy front-end installer for us slower types.

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  15. Posted by Stuartmm on April 25, 2006 at 9:18 am

    You can see a community go through these issues right now if you want. I was asked by a friend who attended the Jimmy Buffet show on 4/20 if i could find a recording. I thought i had but the groups are still in the world of “vines” ( ie slightly more sophisticated tape trading ), worried by ftp sites and intimidated by bittorrent.

    http://www.buffettnews.com/forum/viewforum.php?f=29 for the main forum

    the topics; “OK, i’ll ask” , “4.20.2006 Irvine, CA *Sirius* Vine” and “vines question–why not just upload to FTP?” show the discussion going on.
    Fascinating stuff as i thought anyone trading used bittorrents now.

    Reply

  16. [...] Dave Winer wrote an article about the future of BitTorrent. Two of his thoughts were very interesting. I liked the idea of Firefox and BitTorrent working together, but I found his second "step" to be an even greater concept: It would be especially nice if Apple and Microsoft built BitTorrent support into the Macintosh and Windows operating systems, with simple APIs that made it easy for all software running on these two popular platforms to add client and server BitTorrent support. [...]

    Reply

  17. [...] Another interesting thing about it is that they are distributing the course material using Bit Torrent. It’s great to see some legal uses for this great technology and even better to see people actually trying to make money with it. Another Next Step for Bit Torrent. Class enrollement beguins 1st of May. It may be time to get a new pencil case. [...]

    Reply

  18. [...] This post by Dave Winer is a good thought provoker [...]

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  19. [...] Next steps for BitTorrent (tags: Tech P2P BitTorrent S3) [...]

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  20. [...] A few days ago Dave Winer talked about next steps for Bit Torrent. Good time to point him to my story on Business 2.0/CNN Money website, about three start-ups that are taking peer-to-peer networking to the next level, making it easy for rest of us. This new wave of file-sharing startups isn’t aiming to share music or Hollywood movies, however. It’s just using the technology to speed and simplify the problem of moving a large file from computer A to computer B. [...]

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  21. It has been a long time coming, network computing and network storage are beginning to come around. The key issue of standards is provided by Bitorrent in this instance. One can only wonder at the standard that will catalyse true open Network Computing

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  22. Posted by Ajay on May 2, 2006 at 12:52 pm

    I believe the big obstacle holding bit torrent back is the lack of any authentication mechanism to ensure that only the people who’ve paid for the download are getting it. And I don’t see how that can be layered on top, the more secure you make it, the more inconvenient it would be for authenticated users. Given this situation, I have to agree with Elle that the only use for bit torrent is for marginal content that wants to be heard, without expecting to get paid.

    Reply

  23. Posted by Mike on May 17, 2006 at 1:45 pm

    Ajay:

    Though I hate to support DRM, the transfer itself doesn’t necessarily have to be secure, the content itself can be made secure. In the same way that you can’t simply play your iTunes files on any computer, the content can be locked down before being distributed.

    Reply

  24. [...] A while ago I wrote a post on my views of the future of the Bittorrent network in response to an article by Dave Winer. [...]

    Reply

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