10th Dimension: BitTorrent & the Beeb - Edge of the Network

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

BitTorrent & the Beeb - Edge of the Network

I read a couple of articles pointed out by Derrick Oien from the $250 Million Radio Show, about Disruptive Technology and MegaMedia and the way that these technologies are about to change everything. The links that Derrick provided follow a logical progression, but the two that meant the most to me were, an Article in the latest Online version of Wired, and an article by Mark Pesce.

The first article in Wired, goes into the changes that are being made in the way we experience Media and how its marketed, and how that is being achieved. eg: When you go to Amazon and search for a title, you get suggestions made to you of similar titles by subject or titles that others who bought this title also bought. This has changed the dynamics of product sales for items like books so dramatically that it is estimated that the top 10,000 titles sell as many,but often less than the next 10,000 tiltles. This means that there could be a market for all kinds of things like books and film and music that is twice as big aspreviously thought, maybe even bigger.

The second article (Warning: Some of the Languge may cause offence.) goes onto explain in another way how media distribution has effected us and what we can do about it. It also gives an example of what the BBC is doing to make distribution of its content more effective using web technologies that take advantage of technologies like Peer to Peer networking and BitTorrent. Making it possible to brake the mold of the old broadcasting format of transmitting one program at a time at a predetermined time.

Here's an excerpt from Mark Pesce article discribing a trial being run by the BBC:

BitTorrent & the Beeb.

The BBC doesn't have the bandwidth to netcast its programming to all 66 million of its viewers. Fortunately it doesn't need that kind of capability, because the BBC has cleverly designed the Flexible TV application to act as a node in a Peer-to-Peer network. Anyone using Flexible TV has access to the programs which have been downloaded by any other Flexible TV client, and can get those programs directly from them. All BBC need do is provide a single copy of a program into the network of P2P clients, and they handle the work themselves. More than this, because of the P2P technology used by the BBC (more on this in a moment) a Flexible TV user can get a little bit of the program from any number of other peers; rather than going through the process of downloading an entire program from one other peer, the Flexible TV client can ask a hundred other clients for small sections of the program, and download these hundred sections simultaneously. Not only does this decrease the amount of traffic that any clients has to handle, it also means that it produces a virtuous cycle: the more popular a program is, the more copies of it will exist in the network of peers, and therefore the more easily a peer can download it.

In other words, the BBC has cracked the big problem which has prevented netcasting from taking off. In this system of "peercasting" the network is actually more efficient than a broadcast network, because more than one program can be provided simultaneously, and failure in any one point in the network doesn't bring the network down. In other words, this network can't be hacked, can't suffer from a power outage (unless it spans the whole network, which is very unlikely) and achieves unheard-of efficiencies in the distribution of audiovisual programming.

How is this bit of technological magic achieved? Through the use of a new technology known as BitTorrent - something some of you may have already used. BitTorrent is a P2P filesharing system specifically designed to prohibit one of the biggest social ills which plague P2P networks - a phenomenon known as "leeching". A leech grabs files from a P2P network without providing anything in return. With BitTorrent your download speed - how fast you receive your data - is determined by how much data you're sharing. This means that a torrent starts slowly - because you haven't much to share - and then increases nearly exponentially; as you have more of the file, you have more to share, so your bandwidth increases, until the file is fully downloaded.

Edge of the Network.

I think that Podcasting with BitTorrent is the way to go then you can subscribe to a peer to peer feed, and take full advantage of distibuted computing. Dave Slusher already has a BitTorrent feed for his Podcast, and I had a look at that the other day and was going round in circles. I will have to have a closer look at that again.


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