Tribler. Almost so cool! What I would do:

So I finally made it through to the Tribler website and I think it's *almost* really cool.  Don't get me wrong, I installed the app and it seems to do interesting stuff.  But I think they're biting off more than they can chew.  Basically, I'd layer the content-acquisition experience as follows:

Social: The experience of sharing and learning about new content
Index: Determining who has a given piece of content
Transport: Getting content from somebody else
Tribler tries to vertically integrate the entire stack, and they do a decent job, but it's just too much for one application.  It's like coming out with Prodigy today and trying to complete with "The Internet".  If Tribler came out before ThePirateBay then it'd be something.  But then it'd be called Kazaa.

No, instead I think they should do something less.  Indeed, the whole brilliance of BitTorrent was that it *didn't* do it all.  BitTorrent does nothing but standardize transport, which enabled a huge diversity on the upper layers.  Doing *less* than Kazaa is what made BitTorrent succeed.

So if BitTorrent is on one side, and Kazaa on the other, what should Tribler do?  I'd say stick with the old saying "only innovate one thing at a time" and just integrate the index into the transport layer, and then call it day.  Leave ThePirateBay and everyone else to figure out the social layer, recommendation engine, and just focus on getting rid of the tracker.  How?

I think they should create a tool where you can type in the SHA1 sum of any piece of content,* and it'll download it.  That's it.  Nothing more.  Think of what kind of interesting applications could come about if the recommendation engines and such didn't have to host torrent files, and didn't need to take on the risk of trackers!
* In practice it'd probably be a SHA1 sum of a list of SHA1 sums.
Because really, search engines like TPB only make sense when "what we have" is a small subset of "what you want", and when there is no general consensus on what a "good" copy of each thing is.  In this environment, you literally need to "search" for something you want.

But in practice, TPB has pretty much everything, and for each thing there's usually one version that pretty much everybody uses (ie, the version with all the seeds).  So there's usually little "searching" involved.  More often than not, just type in the name of what you want, pick the one with the highest number of seeds, and you're done.

Given this reality, it probably makes more sense to ditch the unstructured search interface and go to a structured "table of contents" indexing "all music" and "all movies", with the "best" version of each one given front and center.  Then you just click a "p2p://<sha1sum>" link and your client connects to the cloud and pulls it down.  (And all the recommendation engines would just layer atop that.)

Accordingly, TPB shouldn't copy Google: they should copy IMDB.  Create a comprehensive library of all content, and provide one recommended copy of each (or maybe a selection of encodings: iPod, HD, etc).

As for how to manage spam and such, again, embrace reality.  In theory, anybody could post a good copy of anything, and nobody is more trustworthy than any other.  In practice, there's usually one guy who is the uber-fan of a particular type of content, and that person posts all the good stuff.  Why not just explicitly recognize that uber-fan by making him moderator of the corresponding ThePirateIMDB wiki-like page for that band/TV-show/movie/etc.  Then you stop moderating content on a piece-by-piece basis, and start moderating on a curator-by-curator basis.  That uber-fan needn't be the one to post all good content (though in practice he probably would); others could recommend content to him and he'd sift through and find the good stuff.

Anyway, that's all just dreamy "what I'd do if I were a megapirate" talk.  Somebody's going to do it, and it probably won't be me.  I highlight it to make it clear that this is inevitable.  If this scenario frightens you, then your instinct is right: be afraid.  The future is coming, and if it's not to your liking, then now's the time for some deep introspection because there ain't nothing you can do to stop it.

Tribler == Another nail in the coffin for copyright

The weak link in BitTorrent from a piracy perspective has always been the torrent sites.  They're the last centralized holdout vulnerable to attack from copyright enforcers (though those attacks have so far been futile).  Regardless, that vulnerability seems to be on the demise with the latest release of Tribler, which includes totally decentralized tracking ability.

I've long said copyright's days are numbered, and tools like this just make that number smaller and smaller.  Sure, copyright will still be enforceable on major customers like movie studios, satellite radio services, and other entities with a large financial and physical presence -- large enough to be worth defending, and worth attacking.

But Joe Plumber will be given an increasingly free hand to ignore copyright with impunity.  Whether that's morally right or wrong isn't the issue.  It's simply true, and more true every day.

In other news, I'm particularly interested in learning more about Tribler's "Give-To-Get" algorithm.  (The website is slammed right now, so I'll have to check it out later.)  I'm hoping/assuming it takes a less paranoid stand than the standard "tit-for-tat" algorithm BitTorrent employs, recognizing that the universe doesn't reset at the end of each download.

In short, if we share data via tit-for-tat, I only give you data if you also immediately give me data.  If you don't have any data for me, or if you give it to me slowly, then I'll withhold my data from you.  In a sense, data is like currency.

This is a brilliant model that allows for the protocol to succeed in scarce network conditions with different implementations: it protects each user from wasting data on users who don't respond in kind.

But it also makes downloads go unnecessarily slow in an abundant network situations because you can only download (on average) as fast as you can upload.  And because uploading is generally constrained to about a quarter your download speed, that means you can only generally download about 25% as fast as you could otherwise.

Now, BitTorrent gets around this with "seeds", who volunteer data without asking anything in return.  With enough seeds, anybody can download at full speed.  But seeds undermine the whole notion of tit-for-tat.

Indeed, the easy availability of seeds suggests that the whole assumption of tit-for-tat -- the scarce network environment -- is wrong.  Somehow, lots of users are more than willing to give away their bandwidth for free, without any obligation to do so.

Now, there are clever design decisions that encourage this: most torrent clients automatically begin seeding once you finish your download, some tracker sites monitor "seeding ratios" (the ratio of data uploaded to data downloaded), etc.

But the point is: despite there being no technical requirement for people to seed, people still do so, in huge numbers, and don't care.

Which brings me back to the original point: if this is "true" about the universe, then tit-for-tat is non-optimal.  It's like wearing a stillsuit in a rainforest.

So the question is: what *is* optimal.  And the answer is: upload when it's *cheap*, not when it's expensive.  Let me explain that:

Tit-for-tat makes you upload at the same time you download.  But the act of uploading actually makes you download slower.  Even worse, because downloading fast requires uploading fast, then the faster you download the more download capacity you're spending on uploading.  The upshot is even were it not for the asymmetric upload/download bandwidth ratio, tit-for-tat makes you upload when bandwidth is the most expensive.  Tit-for-tat takes a scarce bandwidth environment and makes it *worse*.

The alternative is to wait until the download is done and the upload later, when your network is idle (such as when you are watching the thing you just downloaded).  This way when you download, you download as fast as possible without wasting time uploading.  And when you upload, do it in a way that minimizes its impact upon the user who is volunteering the bandwidth.

Doing this, however, requires trust else people will download without ever uploading.  That trust is very difficult to enforce against people's wills.  (Even tit-for-tat suffers from BitThief problems.)

But the very fact that seeders are in such large supply in a tit-for-tat model shows that users are generally willing to donate their bandwidth voluntarily.  As such, even though there's no way to force people to upload, people still do it anyway.  If you make it more convenient to just "do the right thing" than try to fight the system, then people will just go with it and everybody wins.

Hopefully Tribler does this.  Once the website comes back, we'll see.

Isn't there a better way to save lives than a Golden Gate suicide net?

I'm not pro-suicide.  But $40-$50 million dollars + $78K/year to build a net under the Golden Gate Bridge in order to dissuade just a few dozen jumper a year seems outrageous, on so many fronts.

First, anybody who actually does jump is probably pretty serious about killing themselves -- serious enough that they'll find some other way.  So probably the most absurd part is it being a completely stupid and pointless plan on its face that will probably end up saving zero lives.

But ignoring that -- after all, I'm willing to endorse symbolic plans on occasion -- the price for this meaningless gesture is astronomical.  $40 - $50 *million* dollars?  To encourage only 39 jumpers a year to go somewhere else?  Who can possibly suggest it's a wise expenditure of money, especially in this economic climate, to spend over a *million dollars* to stop just *one* jump a year?

To put that in perspective, if we kept that same money as cash, we could spend over $100,000 per jumper per year for the next century.  We could hire 50 full-time-people to just stand there, 24/7, and watch the bridge -- perhaps talking down anybody who looks like they might jump -- until 2108.  Even just investing $50M dollars at a 5% interest rate would earn $6.5 *billion* dollars in 100 years. 

Even if it were "only" the $78,000 per year maintenance fee (that's right, once built, it needs to be maintained), that's like $2000 per jumper per year.  Even that "paltry" amount could be better spent saving actual lives, or even just hiring another full-time member at a suicide prevention line.

So the cost is outrageous and simply indefensible, especially given it will completely fail to accomplish its objective.  But on top of this, the Golden Gate Bridge is a historic landmark that probably brings in billions of dollars a year in tourism to San Francisco.  We're seriously going to be some huge frickin' ugly net under it?  What kind of effect will that have on tourism or even our international reputation?

Who is in charge of this boondoggle of a plan, and is there any time to breathe sense into the process?  I'm down with spending money to save lives.  But this is just such a ridiculous waste of money it's infuriating.


Note to Movie Studios: Don't Fight the Future

What should the movie studios do to avoid a fate similar to the major music labels?

The labels mined and salted the fields of digital music such that commercial success was impossible.  Their legacy will be intractable resistance to and wholesale destruction of the commercial music industry, effectively sending it back to the stone age.

What should the movie studios do differently?  To be certain, they're starting off on an equally self-destructive course, as this RealDVD episode shows.  But what other card do they have to play?

All I can think of is convenience and a superior experience.  For example, I know how to download pretty much any movie or TV show, but I still rent movies and series's all the time from Blockbuster just because it's way more convenient.  Likewise, I go to movies all the time because I am a sucker for the big screen.

The only meaningful asset the movie studios have is people don't absolutely despise their existence and wish them dead.  (The music labels were never so lucky.)  I wonder if they'll realize how valuable this asset is before it's lost, and if they realize how quixotically battling the future one RealDVD at a time earns them absolutely nothing while eroding the popular support they utterly depend upon to survive.

- David Barrett

A nation united in opposition of its leaders

Isn't it really surprising how much people hate this $700B bailout bill?  

I read a report there was near unanimous opposition among constituents -- so much opposition that websites were crashing under the volume.  I thought this was probably bull, but when I went to call Barbara Boxer I found her voicemail full.  On her website there's a special note that the contact form might not work due to high volume.  Her alternate number is full.  Diane Feinstein's number is busy.

(Here's a helpful page showing California Senator contact info.)

Is this level of true grassroots opposition unprecedented, especially given that both Republican and Democratic Party leaders support it unequivocally?

Personally, I agree with the masses.  America is going bankrupt and I'm much more concerned about another $700B of debt -- especially when I have zero confidence it will actually accomplish its intent of rescuing the economy -- than waiting to see what happens and letting the market sort itself out.  And now that they're trying to sweeten the deal by trowing in tax cuts?  Have we completely lost our minds when it comes to fiscal responsibility?

Furthermore, the defense is just absurd.  Granting that there are probably really good arguments for it, given that this whole episode was triggered by irresponsible lending, can't we find some other defense than "this is needed to let people borrow money to buy homes"?

Regardless, it sounds like the masses' opposition might have tapered off given the stock market crash, so who knows.  Maybe we'll get bailed out, whether we like it or not.


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