Some of the most disruptive services to have appeared – from Napster and Kazaa to Skype and Bittorrent, employ this system of delivery, which isn’t reliant on the traditional server-client model, where a computer connects directly to a server to receive data.
Instead, “peers” in P2P networks take on the role of both client and server, sending and receiving information in small chunks among a community of users. The genius of the system is that it gets more efficient as more people join the network.
The theory underpinning P2P networking has been around for decades and doesn’t just apply to the sharing of information. Internet bandwidth and computing power can also be distributed through P2P networks.
Web entrepreneurs Niklas Zennstroem and Janus Friis, know the power of P2P better than anyone else. They founded both Kazaa, the file sharing network and internet telephony service Skype, which they sold to internet auction giant eBay in 2005 for US$2.6 billion.
Now they want to apply the same formula to internet TV, using P2P to spread popular programmes among internet users.
Their new service Joost, which is due for public release midyear, will distribute digitised versions of popular TV shows via P2P. Joost will send the content out from its servers initially and let it profligate through the network. The pair claim anti-piracy provisions built into Joost mean the programmes can’t be copied. That’s an important point. Both Kazaa and Napster, the file sharing system that brought P2P networking mainstream in 1999, were the target of devastating legal action by the entertainment industry, because of the illicit trading of music and videos that took place over their networks.
Skype avoided the copyright issue with its P2P telephony and Joost will develop with the cooperation of content providers who agree to send their programmes out to the network.
Those programmes will feature about two or three minutes of advertising per hour, according to Joost. The software used to access the service has been built using open-source code, so developers can easily add plug-ins to Joost.
The genius of the system is that it gets more efficient as more people join the network.
P2P turns the supply and demand model on its head. The more popular the content is in a P2P network, the faster it is disseminated and the more likely you are to get hold if it yourself. Only the complicated nature of international TV broadcast rights deals can get in Joost’s way, should the audio and video quality of the digitised programmes prove to acceptable to the masses.
What I like about Joost is that it’s unlikely to become the next Youtube.com, laden with user-generated video of dubious quality. In a recent Wired magazine article, the creators said more conventional TV programming will be the focus of Joost, which will still have the community aspect inherent in P2P networking.
Of all the new web services to have emerged in the past few years, Joost has the potential to be among the most useful and exciting of them and give those of us disillusioned with broadcast TV something to go online for.