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Thursday, January 13, 2005

The Future Of BitTorrent

We recently covered,chris andersen and jeff bezos conversing about opportunities in the internet retail media and The Bittorent Effect separately. Here is an excellent treatment of the future of BitTorrent in the light of recent developments. Excerpts with edits and my views added:

After the recent shutdowns in the BitTorrent community, notably the popular site SuperNova.org, many were left wondering if BitTorrent was on its last legs. How big of a blow are these shutdowns? Is BitTorrent dead or dying? The analysis of the distribution of torrent files on the Internet gives interesting insights .
• How centralized are torrent files on the Internet?
• Do torrent sites follow the 20/80 rule?
• How long is the Long Tail?

These questions are all important because they concern vital (and interesting) differences between BitTorrent and other P2P protocols. Unlike Kazaa, Gnutella, and any others, BitTorrent has a fundamentally “web-based” interface. That means you go to a website in your browser click on a link from that trusted site, and download. So you would expect these sites to vaguely follow the same distributions as websites on the Internet.Also, through the same mechanisms, the architecture of BitTorrent is far more centralized than other P2P networks. For each file, there is a central “tracker” that keeps track of what clients have what pieces of the file, so clients can talk to each other and download efficiently. Kill the tracker, and you kill the ability of any client to trade files with each other. It is for these reasons that BitTorrent is almost more similar to a direct-connect protocol like FTP or HTTP than a P2P network like Kazaa.

So clearly, the long tail is quite long, but at the same time, the larger sites also contain a huge percentage of the torrents. The centralization is quite bad.After reviewing all the data, the key conclusions are :
-Torrent files are extremely centralized, and do follow a Zipf Law-like distribution
-However, instead of 20/80, the distribution is more like 4/80.
-The long tail is very, very long - The number of sites with under 100 torrents numbers close to 87%.
Centralization can be explained by network effects as the sites act as marketplaces. Just as eBay is able to attract buyers, and thus more sellers, and thus more buyers, and so on, torrent sites use the same magic. Ultimately, these sites are simple groups of leechers and seeders getting together to “transact."This is the main reason that a small number of sites constituted a huge percentage of the torrents. 10% of the domains having over 90% of the files is a big deal, and is very skewed towards centralized locations.However, audiences are fragmented and diverse.That said,it is found that the long tail was really quite long. 87% of the sites had a small number - under 100 torrents – hosted at that domain. In fact, there were close to 1000 sites with 10 or fewer torrents.

If eBay were shutdown, another marketplace would simply take its place, by growing into the position. As large torrent sites are shut down, it can be predicted that smaller sites will simply grow to take their place. The only cost to higher traffic is bandwidth, and luckily, online advertising revenues also scale with traffic. This creates an incentive for new sites to emerge and grow..But more importantly, the biggest thing learnt from this exercise was that many diverse groups of people are embracing BitTorrent, and the number of sites hosting torrent files is growing by the day. For the people that aim to stop P2P, they have turned a centralized system like Napster – easily controlled, easily monitored – into a fully decentralized system in the form of Kazaa, as well as a fragmented ecosystem of thousands of centralized servers through BitTorrent.

An excellent analysis of the P2P phenomenon, technology architecture and the long tail effect.
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Sadagopan's Weblog on Emerging Technologies, Trends,Thoughts, Ideas & Cyberworld
"All views expressed are my personal views are not related in any way to my employer"