Among the dozen or so online video start-ups that launched at the DEMO conference this Monday is Squidcast, a personal file-sharing solution for home video enthusiasts. The personal P2P space is already crowded and has proven to be tough to monetize, but Squidcast hopes its unique features geared towards the exchange of HD video content will help it make the cut.
Squidcast is still in private beta, with a public launch being planed for the end of February. I had a chance to test the service today. It had some bugs, which was to be expected, but the whole thing also made me wonder: Where’s the ink?
Squidcast is competing with services like Pando, Allpeers and Podmailing in the personal P2P space, offering pretty much the same value proposition: users who want to send files too large for email can leverage the service to transfer them through a P2P network.
One common problem of these personal P2P services is that they only work if both users are online, and Squidcast goes down a different path than most of its competitors to come up with a solution. The service splits up each and every file into hundreds of pieces that are encrypted and then uploaded to a multitude of hosts within the Squidcast P2P network. The approach is somewhat similar to the social P2P storage solution Wua.la that Om reviewed last year on GigaOM, including the fact that both use so-called erasure codes for redundancy.
What does that mean? Squidcast CTO Jed Putterman put it this way: “As a simple example, a 1GB video file may be split into roughly 1,000 pieces, with any 500 of them able to bring the video back together. That example would have 2x redundancy, with 100 percent availability as long as any 500 of the 1,000 nodes holding these pieces are available.”
Squidcast also uses a kind of self-healing mechanism that automatically duplicates rare pieces on the network to guarantee maximum availability. Stuff like this gets the P2P enthusiast in me excited, but what will the consumer think? I gave it a spin — and ran into quite a bit of trouble.
The Squidcast software is available for Windows and OS X, but the actual file transfer is managed in your browser, which includes the capability to just drag and drop files you want to upload. I had some trouble with Firefox crashing repeatedly under OS X, but Safari seemed to work fine. The Squidcast website is offering streaming access to your video in different less-than-HD qualities. That’s good because you can share content with folks who don’t have the client installed, but there’s also a downside: each video gets transcoded before the upload — a process that can be a bit of a processing power hog. Getting a small 23 MB video clip ready to upload took my admittedly somewhat rusty Mac Mini a total of 19 minutes. Imagine how long it would have taken to actually transfer HD content.
Squidcast then proceeded to completely take over my Internet connection during the upload of the movie. Honestly, the upload speed was quite impressive — I never get close to speeds like this with any DSL speed test — but after a while you’d wish they had at least left some bandwidth for some simple HTTP overhead. Even surfing the web was impossible.
Downloading and streaming the content, on the other hand, worked as advertised. Still, I’m a little worried that Squidcast doesn’t currently offer any capabilities to regulate either the amount of disk space used for other people’s data or the up- and download bandwidth. Of course these are issues that can be fixed, and I’d expect the company to deal with them before their public launch.
Squidcast wants to monetize its service through pre-roll ads that are going to be added to the streaming content, but promises not to touch any downloads. It remains to be seen whether that is enough to finance the continuous development and marketing needed to survive in a very competitive marketplace.
Competitor Pando is already transitioning out of the personal P2P space and instead working on CDN deals because it found that there isn’t enough money to be made by moving bits from PC to PC. Tubes, another personal P2P start-up that made some waves at DEMO last year, is going to cease operations this week. Squidcast will have to do more than just eliminate some nasty bugs if it wants to become more successful than both Tubes and Pando.