Archive for the ‘BitTorrent’ Category

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.


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.

Yahoo game-changers for 2006

Yesterday I participated in a Yahoo management offsite at the spectacular Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Half Moon Bay. They invited two outsiders, myself and Om Malik, to come discuss the new ideas of 2006 with them. They asked what I thought would be the game-changers. They were interested not only in ways they could change the game on their competitors, but how a smaller upstart could be the Choice of a new generation and unseat them as king of whatever hills they’re king of.

Microsoft used to ask us to events like this, Google and Apple never have (except briefly while Amelio was in charge, but that went nowhere). Yahoo continues to impress as the exception to the rule of Silicon Valley. They don’t have the usual arrogance, they’re more inquisitive like the old Microsoft was. Refreshing.

So what did I talk about? Three things.

1. Of course I gave them an abbreviated Clone the Google API schpiel. No need to repeat it here. Search must become a developer platform. If you can’t make the current search engine do it, then hire a new team and build one that can.

2. BitTorrent. 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. Yahoo can make it two-way. Right now BT is largely serving as an (unwilling) channel of distribution for Hollywood, but now we have podcasting and videoblogging, and that stuff is just going to get bigger, and along with that the bandwidth bills for users will keep going up. Ordinary users should get the BitTorrent service for free (after all it doesn’t cost very much to provide) and Yahoo should charge advertisers to distribute their infomercials, ones that users subscribe to, willingly. This is the model for commercialization of the Internet as we go forward. It also is a game-changer on Google, which is going the DRM, appease-Hollywood sell-to-couch-potato approach. I said whereever you’re doing something to make another industry happy at the expense of users, switch polarity, immediately, and get on the side of the users. That in itself is the biggest game-change possible.

3. P2P webcasting. I wrote about this vaguely the other day, and no one apparently understood what I meant by Skype for webcasting. Come on guys, it’s pretty simple. Suppose we’re having a conversation, and I decide “Wow, this would be great for Scripting News, let’s do a webcast of this right now.” So I whip out my laptop, get onto the net (there’s wifi everywhere of course, heh) and launch my Yahoo Webcaster desktop app for the Mac. I choose New Webcast from the File menu. A window opens. There’s a button that says “Copy URL to clipboard.” I click it. Go over to my outliner, paste it into a post on Scripting News. “Tune into this webcast I’m about to do with Bull Mancuso about intellectual property and organized crime.” I highlight the word webcast and click on Add Link. Save. Then I go back to the Yahoo app and click Start. We talk for ten minutes, all the while people tune into the stream, which is managed via a realtime BitTorrent-like P2P connection. And of course when it’s all done it’s automatically archived to an MP3 and included in my RSS 2.0 feed for people who subscribe. If you’ve ever done a webcast, you know how much better this would be. And it’s ready to go, we know how to do all the bits.

PS: I’m a cheap date, probably too cheap. Today, to get me to cough up these ideas all you have to do is put me up in a swanky hotel with a Pacific Ocean view, and feed me. I sing for my dinner, so to speak.

Easing into BitTorrent

In a previous post the comments were all over the map, but I figure that’s because I didn’t explain well-enough what I was looking to do. So I’m going to break the project up into bite-size chunks, just play along with me, and help if you can. Okay? Thanks.

The first little project is to figure out what’s inside a Torrent file. Honestly, I hadn’t looked until yesterday, as I was opening it in TextEdit I was kind of hoping it would be XML. Apparently it’s a binary format. Lots of junky looking characters. So I did a couple of quick searches trying to find a document that explains the file format, something like the RSS 2.0 spec. I didn’t find it. So that’s question #1.

1. Are there any docs for the BitTorrent file format? If so, pointers please. Thank you very much.

My goal is pretty simple, I want to write a script that creates a Torrent from an MP3, and I don’t want to run Python.

Industrial-strength BitTorrent

Okay, it’s time for me to run a real BitTorrent system, not the mickey-mouse stuff that’s good for one or two torrents. I want to host hundreds, and then thousands of files that are reliably accessible over BitTorrent. There must be a way to do it, what is it?

The files are all MP3s, they’re the library of Morning Coffee Notes podcasts going back to June 2004. The process of creating a Torrent file has to be completely automatic. The seeding must take place on the server, also automatically, and there are hundreds of files, so it’s not possible to open each file in a BitTorrent client. They must use almost no resources unless someone is actually accessing it, and then it must be fully seeded by the server.