BitTorrent — an idea whose time has come
A mark of a great idea is that you always have the “Why-didn’t-we-think-of-that-before?” moment when you first encounter it. BitTorrent is like that. It’s a file-sharing system which discourages ‘leeching’ — i.e. downloading but not uploading. Or, as John Markoff puts it in the NYT, “Under older file-sharing systems like Napster and Kazaa, only a small subset of users actually share files with the world. Most users simply download, or leech, in cyberspace parlance. BitTorrent, however, uses what could be called a Golden Rule principle: the faster you upload, the faster you are allowed to download. BitTorrent cuts up files into many little pieces, and as soon as a user has a piece, they immediately start uploading that piece to other users. So almost all of the people who are sharing a given file are simultaneously uploading and downloading pieces of the same file (unless their downloading is complete).
The practical implication is that the BitTorrent system makes it easy to distribute very large files to large numbers of people while placing minimal bandwidth requirements on the original ‘seeder.’ That is because everyone who wants the file is sharing with one another, rather than downloading from a central source.”
The interesting thing about BitTorrent from my point of view is the way it illustrates the non-infringing potential of P2P technologies. This is a great way of distributing large files (for example, operating system upgrades) and of making much more efficient of the resources attached to the Net. There’s a nice diagram illustrating that here. It’s also Open Source software, written by a guy who lived on credit cards while he was creating it — and who then gave it to the world. What a gift!