August 9, 2020
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Bittorrent: Its Importance and Lessons for the Crypto Industry - Part 1

When in 2018 BitTorrent Inc was sold to the Chinese cryptocurrency organization TRON, or rather, to its founder Justin Yuchen Sun - it marked a realend of an era. The company that has been most closely associated with the entire BitTorrent ecosystem for 15 years has disappeared as a result of the takeover. All remaining employees are now “TRON employees” and adhere to its mission. The author of the article for 10 years worked at BitTorrent Inc, at various times engaged in product development, data processing, as well as strategy management and general management. Now, having been in close proximity for so long to what was perhaps the most widespread decentralized technology - he wants to share some thoughts about the BitTorrent world and those lessons that can be learned from this for Bitcoin and the entire blockchain industry.

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During his work in the company - this companybecame a pioneer in many R&D projects for the implementation of decentralized technologies in such areas of the Web as delivery of content and files, folder synchronization, P2P communication, web publishing and live broadcasting.

Translator's Note: R&D (Research & Development) - Research and Development (R&D).

In the fall of 2017, BitTorrent Inc began work on a cryptocurrency development project integrated into the protocol core, which somewhat unexpectedly led to the acquisition of the company.

Although it’s worth starting with a short introduction aboutBittorrent as a whole. Over the years, many people have heard about Bittorrent, and most of them think that it has something to do with illegal file sharing on the Internet. But, many are surprised to learn that there is a real company called BitTorrent Inc.

When describing Bittorrent, the author divides it into three different things:

  • Bittorrent technology - the original P2P file transfer protocol invented by Bram Cohen in 2001;
  • BitTorrent Inc is a company founded by Bram Cohen and Ashwin Navin in 2004 to develop commercial applications invented by Bram;
  • The BitTorrent Ecosystem - A Huge Communitynon-leader users and organizations that have come together around, to a large extent, the illegal exchange of popular files on the Internet, often protected by a variety of copyright laws.

Bittorrent Technology

Bittorrent’s technology is based on a protocolDesigned to enable the distribution of large and popular files over the Internet without the need for very large servers with huge bandwidth. Unlike cryptocurrencies, there is no “token” here. Instead, the ecosystem is based on barter relationships, where peers prefer to share something with other peers who have already shared something with them.

Further specifics of how this works,it does not matter here, but it is worth mentioning that, later, it was Bittorrent’s main technological mission that became an important defense of the founders and the company from a direct attack. After all, Bram never set himself the goal of contributing to copyright infringement or destroying the multibillion-dollar industry that sells copies of media files.

Therefore, despite the fact that his invention ledthis is precisely why technology has gained such impressive popularity due to illegal file sharing, threatening to slow down the bandwidth of Internet service providers (ISPs) - the completely innocent goals of Bittorrent prevented its elimination. Yes, there were many ominous signals, but energetic protection was carried out due to the wider movement for network neutrality. In addition, the absence of illegal intentions and what lawyers called “important use cases that do not violate anyone’s rights” ultimately helped to protect Bittorrent technology from serious interference at the level of Internet or state providers.

Of course, there have been many attempts by Internet service providers.to intervene in what was considered excessive torrent traffic, but there was no agreed and sanctioned attempt to beat it by the state. This is largely due to the fact that no one wanted to set a legal precedent for censorship of general-purpose technologies simply because of one set of legally problematic applications.

Naturally, the full story is more complex andincludes lobbying on both sides, many attempts to damage torrent traffic and a major initiative on the part of BitTorrent Inc to adapt the protocol to make it less aggressive in the field.

Accelerated adaptation has become a broader factor.Internet bandwidth due to the advent of new applications that were even more demanding on bandwidth than Bittorrent. Over time, torrent traffic simply ceased to be a top priority for Internet service providers, and as a result, they concentrated their efforts on some other things.

BitTorrent Inc

All this time, BitTorrent Incexisted, making a profit, but more often apologizing for the notoriety of many other actors in the ecosystem. It continues to distribute the two most widely used torrent clients: Bittorrent and uTorrent. She acts as an evangelist for the best use of Bittorrent technology and makes money on advertising that is displayed to millions of its users. She has a culture that kept her far from any action or promotion of copyright infringement, but she continues to update and protect the technology that runs a large part of the Bittorrent ecosystem.

BitTorrent Ecosystem

The BitTorrent ecosystem is made up of people whouse this technology. As in the case of bitcoin and other blockchain projects, there are a number of important roles in it, each of which is performed by a large number of participants.

The bulk of the Bittorrent ecosystem includes:

  • Developers and distributors of client software that works using the open Bittorrent protocol, as described on bittorrent.org;
  • Operators of thousands of public and private torrent sites that provide torrent file directories and communication mechanisms to help users find files to download;
  • Warez - an underground community of people who find files, remove protection from them, and then release high-quality versions of films and other media to torrent sites;
  • Tracking site operators that help peers find each other effectively (previously, infrastructure was required, which is now optional);
  • Several hundred million consumers around the world using torrent programs to download files.

Many of the roles in the Bittorrent ecosystemoriginated on their own, in view of the fact that there was no original design and self-organization, there is no leader and very few institutions that manage who does what, when.

In more detail about the principles of development of decentralized systems in the article:

Sustainable Protocols: How Decentralization Developed

At the same time, BitTorrent Inc and Bram Cohen himself are longtime played a rather detached role in the Bittorrent ecosystem. Yes, Bram is a respected, but extremely restrained progenitor of technology, and BitTorrent Inc became more and more unattractive, since it burdened everyone’s favorite software with advertisements and did not develop functions regarding anonymity and content discovery, which was the most demanded in the community .

Why Bittorrent mattered

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The first thing you should pay attention to isthe importance of bittorrent in the old days. Probably, this significance no longer exists, and it has not been in the past few years. True, Bittorrent still has a large user base, but it can not be compared with what it once was. The reason is that the media industry has long stepped forward and Bittorrent is no longer a significant threat that it once posed.

This aspect and who will win among the "decentralized intruders" will be described in more detail in the following parts of the material.

Of course, the Bittorrent ecosystem had a largevalue, and BitTorrent Inc from time to time played a really important role, but still rarely exerted a decisive influence and often avoided leadership positions.

The Bittorrent ecosystem was crucial for two reasons:

FirstlyBittorrent for the first time made sharing very possiblelarge files for everyone who has an internet connection, without any special infrastructure. This has led to an explosive increase in the popularity of Bittorrent for sharing large digital media objects.

It was not the first and not the lasttechnology, but, almost certainly, it worked on the largest scale. Where technology from BitTorrent ended, a large community filled in the gaps using off-the-shelf web technologies for organizing curated directories and search indexes. Public and private communities for file sharing, public ratings with reputation ratings, generally accepted file naming and coding standards, and many other “features” that turned raw technology into a thriving and useful ecosystem were also created. The popularity was such that torrent traffic, according to various sources, amounted to 10%, and sometimes more than 50% of all Internet traffic!

Make any files available for sharinguse was a fundamental problem for the media industry, which began to see the Internet as just another sales channel into which a new media “format” could be distributed. After all, vinyl, cassettes and CDs gave way to the MP3 format, and VHS and DVD were transformed into MP4. But, this did not happen, since delivering a copy of the file to one consumer on the Internet meant that it was extremely difficult to prevent the transfer of the file to all other consumers. Bittorrent was the last in a long series of technologies that once and for all made a file-oriented approach to building a business model of the media ineffective.

Secondlyopen and decentralized architecture asBoth technology and the community meant it was virtually impossible to stop file sharing through Bittorrent. Other file sharing systems came and went, always crippled by some centralized “Achilles heel” style chip, but Bittorrent remained.

Despite the fact that on different parts of the ecosystemBittorrent made endless legal, regulatory and technical attacks - it remained impenetrable and still functions today today as it did over ten years ago. Even the fact that BitTorrent Inc survived to its purchase is partly due to increased caution and proactive measures in the development of file sharing technology.

But, most importantly, it was absolutely clear thatthe closure of such a company will not bring great results and will not create a serious “dent” in the BitTorrent ecosystem. This would simply rule out a moderately constructive partner, moreover, at the cost of alienating an enormous number of users. Bittorrent users will simply find other torrent software, and the ecosystem will continue to exist.

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Bittorrent basically mattered because of hisremarkable incredible stability, and this despite its extremely destructive influence on the media industry and the flow of illegal activity, which he, it would seem, still allowed. Perhaps Bram’s achievement with Bittorrent was supposed to be proof of the concept of just such a global decentralized network, completely protected from censorship, which Satoshi Nakamoto meant when he conceived Bitcoin.

The following material will be devoted to what decentralization is really good for and how important it is to break rules.

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