The popular BitTorrent media platform Vuze, formerly known as Azureus, is releasing a major update later today that offers some social features as well as a web-wide search functionality. Users of the new client version 3.1 will be able to connect to their friends on Vuze and recommend torrent downloads to one another. The client also has basic profiles and an activity stream, features more closely associated with social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace.
The search functionality is pretty remarkable in that it can be used to search multiple web sites as once. That’s an interesting turn for a platform like Vuze, which has been trying to establish itself as a one-stop-shop for licensed professional and semi-professional content. Vuze may offer select episodes of Weeds and The Office for $2 a piece, but it can’t really do without the huge catalogs of free and not always legal content from sites like Mininova.
Vuze’s new social features are still limited to a few basic functions. You can connect to your friends, but not see if they are online. You can suggest torrents to them, but there is no way of knowing if they actually download the content, much less if they like it. A simple feedback function would go a long way here; some type of instant messaging would be even better.
Still, recommendations from friends are nice, and there is another interesting aspect to it: Friends automatically download these recommended torrents with higher priorities from each other — a feature Vuze calls “friend boost.” This essentially allows you to gang up with your contacts and speed up each others’ downloads. And these social recommendation and downloading features work with any torrent site and tracker, not just Vuze.com.
In addition to Vuze.com, the new search box gives users the option to search third-party web sites, with Mininova, Sumotorrent, BTJunkie and Jamendo being preselected. With the exception of Jamendo, all of these also feature unlicensed content. In fact, Mininova was sued by Dutch rights holders just a few weeks ago. But Vuze CEO Gilles BianRosa told me that he doesn’t think his company could run into trouble by searching these sources. “We have considered the existing legal framework and feel comfortable about the addition of this feature to our new release,” he told me, adding that rights holders could use the search to add their platforms to the mix as well.
Vuze does offer the ability to add additional sites to its search box, much in the same way users can add search engines to Firefox. BianRosa picked up on the browser metaphor to explain why Vuze is not going to filter any of these third-party search results. “We will not add any filters,” he told me. “Only the sites themselves can effectively add filters. If we were to add filters, it would be like Firefox blocking certain sites or content.”
Two sites that can be easily activated to be included in the search functionality are YouTube and Dailymotion, which is ironic, since Vuze has always tried to establish itself as the platform for professional-grade, high-quality video content. While BianRosa told me a year ago that Vuze wasn’t supposed to be “the next YouTube” — now it looks like they can’t quite do without the current incarnation of everyone’s favorite time-waster. The search is also somewhat of an admission that the idea of a one-stop-shop doesn’t quite work, especially if it means that users actually have to shop.
Vuze offers some of its professional content as ad-supported free streams and downloads, but other shows are only available as DRMed rentals and sales. That’s a model that competitor BitTorrent has struggled with and is now moving away from, and it hasn’t been too successful for Vuze either, judging by the download numbers for the for-sale shows published on Vuze.com. Even popular titles like Weeds apparently only generate a few dozen to a hundred or so sales per title, and the less-popular but brilliant This American Life titles only range in the single-digits.
Free and ad-supported streams and downloads generally seem to do better, but a single platform clearly doesn’t cut it for torrent downloaders. Vuze has recognized this and torn down its walls. This could help it to regain some of the BitTorrent community’s trust, which lately has migrated away, as well as open up third-party platforms to newcomers. If it makes the social features just a little less autistic, Vuze.com has a winner here.