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I read today the BitTorrent– the folks generally associated with sharing pirated TV shows, movies or music — have developed a file sync-and-share app based on their peer-to-peer streaming technology, called BitTorrent Sync.
The company has a distinctive brand, but I wonder if they can get past the somewhat negative denotations of piracy?
The services works more or less like Dropbox, Box, and other competitors: you download a client, create a folder (or many folders) for syncing and sharing files, and then you can sync files with your other devices or with other users.
Unlike server-based options like Dropbox, Google Drive, and Box, the syncing is performed on a peer-to-peer basis. When a friend receives the link to a BitTorrent Sync folder it doesn’t represent a folder stored in the cloud, but simply initiates a connection from your folder to theirs, and the transfer is peer-to-peer, without any intermediary file copying to the cloud.
To some people, that may seem like a feature: they may not want copies made anywhere else of the information in those files. But in my case, and for many others, having a duplicate copy of the files in my most critical folders is one of the best features of these file sync-and-share services. For example, that allows me to use the services as an archive, where I can retain old documents that I no longer want on my hard drive. And just as important, I can use any computer to access my files from the cloud without having to arrange for a peer-to-peer transfer in advance.
Also note that for a peer-to-peer service to work, at least one other peer must be online for you to be able to get access to desired files. If my friend Bette wants to share something with me and we are not online at the same time, the transfer can’t happen. This was a well-known flaw of the earliest version of Lotus Notes, which started out as a pure peer-to-peer solution, so workgroups would often add a spurious ‘server’ member to teams which was actually a PC that was always online so that at least one member would have all updates.
Earlier this week, Spotify announced that they were shutting down their peer-to-peer sharing capability, something that the music sharing service had relied on in its early days. Basically, the company has built out enough servers to provide a reliable and consistent experience for its users. I think this is where we are headed in general: away from peer-to-peer.
There is likely to be a community of users who will gravitate toward the BitTorrent Sync solution, but it won’t be the mainstream consumer or business users. Perhaps the world of video production, which has large files and users who are unlikely to want to pay for server side storage of many gigabyte files.