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.
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.
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.