BitTorrent, eXeem, Meta-Torrent, Podcasting

Marc Eisenstadt asks: “The index that facilitates the sharing of files on a large scale is also the Achilles heel of peer-to-peer file-sharing, because it is vulnerable to litigation and closure. So what happens if the index is itself distributed? I try to get my head around the latest in peer-to-peer file sharing, and explain a bit about what I’ve learned, including the fact that BitTorrent’s power rests in its ‘swarm’ distribution model, but not necessarily in your end-user download speed. What has this got to do with podcasting?”

consider podcasting as a time-shifted radio distribution model. In fact, podcasting generalises to RSS Media feeds, but let’s just stick with podcasting, because it is simpler to understand. I summarised the ‘so what?’ of podcasting in an earlier Get Real posting, to the effect that it completes the ‘last mile’ of the connections from the user’s point of view: you subscribe to an RSS feed that embeds within it (not unlike an email attachment) an MP3 file of interest to you, e.g. a regularly-scheduled technology review or talk radio interview, audio book, rock concert, etc., and presto-mundo, it appears on your iPod or other portable gadget whereupon you can listen while on the train, jogging, etc. All the pieces have been there for a long time, but podcasting makes it a hands-free seamless end-user experience (once you’ve done the one-time setup, at least), and that is extremely nifty. But there’s still one piece missing.

There has been some concern expressed that RSS feeds (certainly full-text feeds) are themselves bringing the internet to its knees. This is probably something of an over-statement, but ‘enclosures’ could compound the problem. Consider this scenario: you have created a wildly successful weekly talk show, and the zillions of hits and downloads, whether directly or via RSS feeds, are killing your server, or forcing you to invest in mirror sites and similar server-centric distribution models. You are now ‘a victim of your own success’: large scale has proven self-defeating. But wait! The P2P visionaries rebel agains this very thought, remember? As I wrote above, “Big scale is an asset, rather than a liability”. And in the BitTorrent world, massive scale improves throughput rather than thwarting it.

Sure enough, the guys behind podcasting are already way ahead on this one. iPodder, for example, is conducive to podcasters who make their MP3 RSS enclosures available as torrents. Setup is a little fiddly at this stage, but there are articles that provide how-to guides, such as “Battle the Podcast Bandwidth Beast with Bittorrent ” Wahoo!! The loop is closed! There is end-to-end content creation and delivery for the masses, with no ‘victim of its own success’ bottlenecks. The more popular a file is, the more easily it can be distributed. Awesome.

That’s the way the net was meant to be.

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.