ToPeer, latest Personal P2P Startup

Private sharing of digital files is one of those things that just makes sense to people who spend a lot of time online. Everyone thinks the problem’s not solved yet, so people keep launching startups. ToPeer, based in Ottawa, is the latest personal P2P effort we have come across. It is a (Windows only, for now) browser plug-in that assists in file transfer but also adds in layers of tools to manipulate and manage digital content. ToPeer is currently in private beta, though you can sign up for a public beta to be released “this quarter.”

We met CEO Parm S. Gill and VP Technology Stefan Van Kessel when they were in town recently to raise money and explore setting up an office. The team’s background is in running a Canadian ISP. The company raised a Series A round last year, but would not disclose the amount or its investors.

Many aspects of personal P2P, like we said, are compelling: no hosting, so better privacy controls; speedy transfer, even for big files; and if done well, better organization options than simply sending an email. However, personal P2P will generally leave you in the lurch with regards to backup and syncing across multiple computers.

We have covered many companies in this space, including Pando, Zapr, AllPeers, Grouper, Perenety, Wired Reach, Google (Talk), and other IM clients that allow personal file sharing. However, these companies rarely have distribution across multiple operating systems and browsers and other software; Pando and Wired Reach’s BoxCloud seem to have the most diverse distribution options. ToPeer is only available for Windows, but should work within any browser. A Mac client is due next year.

The business model for personal P2P is not established yet; ToPeer does not seem that concerned with making money. We noticed Google ads when we poked around the private beta but were told they may be removed before launch. Gill thinks he will eventually charge for premium features.

ToPeer is trying to make file transfer dead simple, but it’s not quite there yet. The interface mimics a desktop with an IM contact list on the left (internal IM, not integrated with outside). Your contacts within the system make certain files available and then you can browse through what they’ve exposed. I had quite a bit of trouble navigating around but once I figured out how to do things I was pleased with the quick downloads.

The coolest thing ToPeer is adding is adding is tools for playing with and displaying files; so, for instance, you could build a personal Flickr that’s not hosted on anybody else’s servers. For the first release, basic editing and album creation is the only step in this direction, but Gill says video and other tools are next.

At the same time, it doesn’t make sense to build this out too much. imeem, for instance, tried to combine social networking and personal P2P into a full client, and it evolved too far away from the simple file transfer between friends that’s the core issue here.

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