The Balkanization of BitTorrent


Mark Cuban has somewhat of a mixed record predicting BitTorrent’s future, having once suggested that nobody would ever download HD content over peer-to-peer networks. Obviously, he got that one wrong. But he does have a point when it comes to a growing obstacle to P2P becoming mainstream:

There are a ton of clients, with the number growing all the time. Although they work on basically the same source code and protocols, they all install and operate as if they had exclusive access.

Cuban argues that conflicts between different clients might turn users off BitTorrent completely. And he might just be right this time.

The competition amongst different BitTorrent vendors hasn’t been a big problem until recently. Vendors try to one-up each other’s feature set and memory footprint, but the clients’ main functionality has basically stayed the same. After all, BitTorrent is an open source protocol.

However, with the launch of BitTorrent-powered content platforms and various personal P2P solutions, vendors are pushing their software more aggressively. To exacerbate the situation, they’re now drawing new users who might not have the technical knowledge to deal with software conflicts.

Let’s have a look at the main players and their role in this development:

Azureus has been most aggressive about gearing people towards their own platform. Azureus’ features a Java web downloader that will override your browser’s MIME filetype settings – meaning that it will start Azureus to download content form Zudeo even if you have chosen another client as your default solution for Torrent downloads. To be fair: Zudeo does also feature traditional Torrent download links, but the Java downloader is clearly the more prominent feature.

BitTorrent’s Bram Cohen has stated that the company’s upcoming content platform will be open to all clients, but its new client won’t be open source anymore. BitTorrent’s Lily Lin told me last October that the company will maintain an open source reference implementation, but that “there will be an enhanced, closed-source version” to power “the new retail marketplace and for other technology implementations.”

Personal P2P vendors like Allpeers, Podmailing, and Pando are all based on BitTorrent, but are not interoperable. To be fair: Allpeers has announced that it will eventually enable traditional Torrent downloads. Podmailing seems to be one step further and is already thinking about interoperability.

There is a real danger that we will have a Balkanization of BitTorrent, with clients fighting over filetype associations and vendors introducing one proprietary feature after another. Think of the media player war, and the way you felt every time the RealPlayer changed all your default settings.

Of course, the media player war ended when people finally uninstalled all those rude clients. This time the conflict might be over even sooner: BitTorrent downloads continue to be dominated by content from rogue tracker sites. Torrent tracker admins have been banning misbehaving clients for years. So far their targets have mostly been clients who don’t contribute enough upload bandwidth. But I wonder how long it will take before some sites ban clients for a lack of interoperability or for messing with their user’s PCs?

Janko Roettgers is a Los Angeles-based journalist and book author. He is also the editor of P2P Blog.



Balkanization? You think you what does this word mean? And you know what was happening on Balkan?

I hate these so called “journalists”

Lone Jim

Marc Cuban has absolutely NO IDEA what he’s talking about. He’s so clueless it’s not even funny.

Lawrence Low

One person’s balkanization is another’s business model.

Heddy’s thinking is on the right track from the perspective of creating BitTorrent businesses. There is a divergence in the application of the technology intended to deliver specific benefits to different users.

Bit torrent the technology has proven itself to be a very powerful technology for distributing large files. AllPeers and Pando were created to deliver a type of benefit to users. The question is whether they can get enough users to pay enough to build a business around this.

BitTorrent Inc the business that has received $28.75m in venture funding necessarily needs to move in the direction of creating a closed source branch of the bit-torrent technology to deliver the benefits to content creators and content users. While technology purist might bemoan the loss of interoperability, if BitTorrent Inc is able to make bit-torrent technology work like magic to the mass user as a new way to consume video content, there is an opportunity to create a business of iPodian proportions.

For those that like the pure technology, there will always be the reference open source client to play with.


Hi everyone, Yaron from Pando here.

Just a quick clarification — Pando will support generic .torrent downloads in an upcoming version. This makes sense for everyone, most importantly our users.


heddy, like your comments. have a few questions for you offline. can you please email at

by the way, allpeers incorporating bittorrent code is like solaris incorporaing unix code. it is not quite the same and lacks interoperability. allpeers is using code from a shop called Amicima

Scott T.

I think it’s more like IM. The “standard” bittorrent clients like Azureus are like Jabber clients, generically interoperable (for the most part); the personal p2p clients (Pando) are like walled networks (AIM, Y!IM, etc.). Zudeo is sort of like Google Talk which is just the standard (jabber::bittorrent) masked with same branding and niceness on top.

Scott T.

Is this “balkanization” more like media players or IM? Because “balkanization” in the IM world is a bit annoying but it’s hardly killed the space nor has it soured users on the tools & networks. Instead we see a long term trend toward interoperability (first with multi-network clients, then network-to-network bridges a la Jabber, and now we’re starting to see the IM networks themselves looking to cooperate together, like Google/AIM)…


Mark Cuban doesn’t really understand what he’s talking about here. He seems to view all these clients which mention bittorrent somewhere in their name as separate and different and unable to talk to each other.

Mostly, this is all just a matter of semantics. There is a single, ‘official’, bittorrent protocol. It is implemented by all the bittorrent clients: Azureus, uTorrent, BitComet, Mainline (the Bittorrent Inc client), etc. ALL of these clients can talk to each other and operate in the same way within torrent swarms. Zudeo is just a front-end to Azureus: Azureus can still handle all of the bittorrent downloads you will ever want.

Then there are bittorrent style systems, like AllPeers and Pando. These do not implement bittorrent but have their own way of distributing content which is bittorrent-like.

Over the last year or so, Mainline (BitTorrent Inc) has been lagging behind in advances in bittorrent. Things like encryption were established between the developers of Azureus and uTorrent. Bram’s had to eat his words after calling encryption ‘harmful’ and ‘dubious’ and other such things and Mainline now deals (to some extent) with encryption and his company isn’t going to change uTorrent’s implementation of encryption.

Where there is incompatability is with the DHT systems implemented by the clients. Azureus has one; and Mainline, uTorrent, BitComet, and others have another. I’m guessing that Azureus will eventually implement the other DHT as well…


Cuban must like to throw money away then becuse hes a major investor in Red Swoosh .

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