Why the BitTorrent Effect … is … and isn’t

Wired Magazine has a sorta brilliant, far-reaching article on the creator of BitTorrent, Bram Cohen.

It’s sorta brilliant because it’s the normal groveling Wired interview, but there are about four or five choice quotations that anyone working in any area of content creation/distribution/consumption[?] should at least read.

And Bram Cohen does not have an agenda, just tech smarts. Others will do the same or worse/better (depending on your politics).

Choice bits:

  • One example of how the world has already changed: Gary Lerhaupt, a graduate student in computer science at Stanford, became fascinated with Outfoxed, the documentary critical of Fox News, and thought more people should see it. So he convinced the film’s producer to let him put a chunk of it on his Web site for free, as a 500-Mbyte torrent. Within two months, nearly 1,500 people downloaded it. That’s almost 750 gigs of traffic, a heck of a wallop. But to get the ball rolling, Lerhaupt’s site needed to serve up only 5 gigs. After that, the peers took over and hosted it themselves. His bill for that bandwidth? $4. There are drinks at Starbucks that cost more. “It’s amazing – I’m a movie distributor,” he says. “If I had my own content, I’d be a TV station.”
  • Eric Garland, CEO of the P2P analysis firm BigChampagne, says, “the real work isn’t acquisition. It’s good, reliable filtering. We’ll have more video than we’ll know what to do with. A next-gen broadcaster will say, ‘Look, there are 2,500 shows out there, but here are the few that you’re really going to like.’ We’ll be willing to pay someone to hold back the tide.”
  • After hobnobbing with “content people” from the record and movie industries, [Bram Cohen] realized that “the content people have no clue. I mean, no clue. The cost of bandwidth is going down to nothing. And the size of hard drives is getting so big, and they’re so cheap, that pretty soon you’ll have every song you own on one hard drive. The content distribution industry is going to evaporate.” Cohen said as much at the conference’s panel discussion on file-sharing. The audience sat in a stunned silence, their mouths agape at Cohen’s audacity.

THIS is why the BitTorrent effect matters. Because it is a glitch in the Matrix, a disturbance in the Force.

What BitTorrent began will be continued/forked by others and so on.

Again, like Napster, the genie is out of the bottle.

Business models have changed. Get over it/get on with it.

Why BitTorrent is effective – and a protocol that I could not write in a zillion years – it’s claim to fame is that it allow faster downloads of stuff. To MPAA etc, that means faster pirating.


But as Cohen himself admits in the interview, the overall capability of folks to get access to stuff and store it is increasing at an astonishing rate. BitTorrent may be a good protocol, but when everyone has a 1 terabyte hard drive and a DS3 coming into the home, is the efficiency of BitTorrent necessary?

THAT’s why BitTorrent really doesn’t matter (in the LONG run).

Short run, it’s the [promise of]/[evil bastard] of Napster for large honkin’ files, which include films.

Long run – We’ll all be able to do this good/nasty stuff easily – much like a browser enable the delivery (and possible [gasp!!] storage/redelivery of same). BitTorrent shows us the potential of the future; it is not the future.

As Dylan sang, the times they are a changin’…


I mentioned in my prognostications for 2005 that I had, for the last few years, predicted the decline/demise of Sun and Apple Computer. And I still do.

However, in light of the pretty damn good year Apple had last year, it made me think again.

However, I still stand by my statement(s). But allow me to clarify.

When I wrote (above) “Apple Computers” this was very intentional. I’m talking about Apple as a computer manufacturer. And the outlook for the company in that respect is still pretty bleak. MS still has a stranglehold on desktops (especially in the business environment, which is woefully undercounted in many surveys), and any inroads made against MS is by Linux, not Apple. Speaking from personal experience, the places I’ve worked have mainly broken down to some art/graphics folks having Macs, some portion of the hard-core techies running Linux desktops (on machines which had Windoze pre-loaded: Dell units; IBM ThinkPads and so on) and everyone else running Windoze.

Apple’s success recently is not in computers but in their foray into becoming an entertainment company: Itunes; Ipod and so on. Some of this may – at some point – translate to more Mac sales, but – right now – we’re just not seeing it. No halo effect.

So – to me – Apple is, at best, stagnant as a computer company.

Sun is a little more straight-forward and interesting.

All the pundits seem to paint MS as the next IBM, referring to the decline of IBM after they refused to acknowledge that their heavy-iron mainframes were becoming dinosaurs. (IBM bounced back by embracing the PC and – later – Linux.)

There is a certain amount of validity to that argument, but – to me – Sun is really the next IBM.

Sun is still pushing the same hardware (SPARC) and software (Solaris) that they were a decade ago. Yes, they’ve added Java to their software portfolio, but I’d wager that MS has made more profit off the Java-clone C# in the last couple years than Sun ever has off Java.

Sun reported a meager profit lately, but this was in large part due to an large injection of capital – in the form of litigation avoidance – from … [drumroll]… Microsoft.

While there still is a need for Enterprise 10000 servers put out by Sun, the demand is going way down. Less than a decade ago I worked for a small company that ran an old DEC mainframe. An expensive piece of hardware to own/maintain – but that’s what was needed. Today, you could throw that out, get a couple of blade units running Linux and have way less maintenance, greater speed and higher redundancy at a fraction of the cost.

Take Google for an example: They have huge farms of Linux/x86 servers. Know what they do when one of the units has problems?


If you have 10,000 servers, if one goes down, you still have 99.99% of your units running.

Have a cluster of five Enterprise 10000 servers and one goes down, you’ve lost 20 percent of your units.

To its credit, Sun keeps surviving, but I don’t know how long this can last. I have nothing against Sun; I learned (sorta) Unix on Solaris. But it’s a tough technical row to hoe with 10-year old tactics.

Know what I mean?

Species: Couch Potato

Well, last weekend I was a total sofa spud, and – over the course of the weekend – watched the entire first season of The West Wing.

Yeah, 15 hours of staring at that screen instead of a computer screen. Sue me.

I’ve long been a fan of the show, even though the last couple of seasons it’s fallen off a bit for me.

I never saw the first season – maybe a show or two in reruns – but it was amazing to watch the first season (especially without commercials!). Great acting, great writing, intelligent topics (for a prime-time drama) without much pandering. Just amazingly refreshing after sampling some the recent TV dreck.

So I purchased seasons two and three, and that’ll keep me occupied for some time.

Really, really quality prime-time TV. Amazing.

Chicago Weather…

A week ago, 10+ inches of wet, frozen snow.

Two days ago, mid-50s weather: Fog throughout the day as the snowdrifts dwindle.

Yesterday, small ice storm. Had to chisel my way into the car.

Today and through the weekend, highs(!) of low teens, with wind chills well below zero.

Remind me again why I live in Chicago?