AllPeers is a social BitTorrent extension for Firefox. The ease of use and the appealing user interface make it especially popular among people who are relatively new to BitTorrent, but why do we need a social BitTorrent client?
We have been following AllPeers since it was a closed Beta project and lot of features have have been added since then. The extension now has over 240,000 registered users and this number is growing rapidly.
Initially, AllPeers was not meant to replace traditional BitTorrent clients because it didn’t support .torrent downloads. However, this has now changed, BitTorrent support was added in their latest update, and they are now ready to compete with other BitTorrent clients and P2P firefox extensions.
Still, the more advanced BitTorrent users don’t really see the need for a socialized BitTorrent client. In the first versions of AllPeers, some users also missed the more advanced settings and features that their regular BitTorrent client offered, yet this can hardly be an excuse anymore since AllPeers added most of the essentials.
We decided to have a chat with Matthew Gertner, Chief Technology Officer at AllPeers who – like many others – uses the BitTorrent extension to get timely access to decent television. Among other things we asked him why we need a social BitTorrent client, why we should use it and what the future brings for AllPeers.
For those who are unfamiliar with AllPeers, at the bottom of this article is a video that shows the extension in action.
TorrentFreak: What is so great about a social BitTorrent client?
Matthew: There are two issues that we want to address with Social BitTorrent. First of all, there are relatively high hurdles to getting up and running with BitTorrent as compared to watching a streaming video on YouTube or downloading a song from iTunes. To some degree this is a result of the relative technical complexity of BitTorrent clients. We’ve addressed this by integrating BitTorrent into the web browser so torrent downloads behave more like normal web downloads. We’ve also hidden a lot of the details of what’s going on in the background, while still making this available to the more technically savvy user who wants to know what their seeding ratio is or how many leechers they are connected to.
Social BitTorrent starts to kick in to help with the other big hurdle: the difficulty of finding content. Of course, experienced BitTorrent users don’t have any problem with this. But I can say from personal experience that it’s a big challenge for newbies. Most people I’ve tried to turn on to BT gave up quickly because they couldn’t figure out how to find files. With our client, it’s much easier to introduce your friends to BT because all they have to do is install AllPeers and wait. When you have a torrent file you think they’d enjoy, you share it with them using our Drag-n-Share feature, and they click on it to download. This saves everyone the time of going out and hunting for files themselves, and downloads are also much faster because you can download from the person who shared with you and from the torrent simultaneously. Once people catch the BT bug, they’ll be more motivated to figure out how to go and find files themselves.
The other aspect of Social BitTorrent is more forward-looking. To be competitive with media distribution websites like Flickr and YouTube, BitTorrent needs social features. I should be able to comment on or rate a torrent file and see other people comments and ratings. Of course, most torrent websites let you do this, but we think this should be built into the network, not dependent on a specific site. I also want to be able to tie my media consumption via BitTorrent with my social network, and we’re geared up to do this since managing a private contact list has always been central to our vision. In the longer term, it should be possible to set up ad hoc communities around various content. For example, I’m a golf fan (some would say addict), so I’d like to be able to join a community where I can exchange golf-related content with other people using BT while discussing the content and just plain meeting like-minded folks.
TorrentFreak: Should people who are not interested in the social aspect of AllPeers try it anyway?
Matthew: I’ll be fired unless I say yes. :-) Seriously, I think anyone interested in BitTorrent should at least take a look at AllPeers because we’ve done something quite different from existing clients. That said, if it’s really important for you to be able to tweak every last parameter when configuring your downloads, it might not be for you since we’ve put such a heavy emphasis on simplicity. On the other hand, the convenience of downloading directly inside Firefox is a really significant factor and might attract a lot of people who don’t care about the social aspect.
TorrentFreak: Is AllPeers “feature-wise” ready for the more demanding BitTorrent user?
Matthew: It really depends on what you mean by demanding. If you want to make sure that downloads over 312Mb start automatically at 2am while consuming no more than 47Kb/s of upload bandwidth and using at most 50 half-open TCP/IP connections, then AllPeers is definitely not the client for you. (Although we leverage Firefox’s extension architecture so maybe one day people will be able to add more esoteric features as addons.)
That said, I consider myself to be a demanding BT user, but I’m also lazy and I don’t want to spend time tweaking anything. I just want downloads to be fast and reliable. For this reason we see advanced features like peer exchange and selecting individual files for download as necessities, whereas a lot of other companies left this type of thing out of early versions of their software. BitTorrent is a big part of my lifestyle because I live in Europe, so it’s the only way for me to get timely access to decent television (much as I enjoy watching Baywatch reruns dubbed in Czech). If AllPeers didn’t download as fast as other clients, I simply wouldn’t use it. As it transpires, I use it every day, so draw your own conclusions!
TorrentFreak: Will you release a light version of AllPeers that just adds BitTorrent support to firefox?
Matthew: To some degree we already do this, since you don’t have to register to use the BT support, only if you want to use our social features. Note that currently about 75% of people who download the client do register.
As far as stripping out all the code except for the BT client, we don’t have plans currently to do this. Our client is open source so this is certainly something that a motivated outside developer could do themself. In the longer term, we’re interested in investigating whether some parts of AllPeers might make sense as built-in functionality for Firefox, and BitTorrent support is an obvious choice. I’m not affiliated with Mozilla in any official capacity, and this is pure speculation on my part, but perhaps one day we’ll see BT support in Firefox “out of the box”, and I’d be delighted if this support were based on our code.
TorrentFreak: AllPeers is maturing fast, have you ever considered to release it as a standalone application, so non-firefox users can use it as well?
Matthew: This is a no brainer, especially since XULRunner (Mozilla’s platform for standalone applications) is maturing in parallel to AllPeers. I don’t even think the development effort would be that significant. Like every big, ambitious software project, we’ve constantly grappling with an ever-expanding to-do list, but a standalone version is slowly creeping its way to the top.
In the meantime, we do have a bundle called “Firefox with AllPeers” (produced in partnership with Mozilla) for people who want to install our client, but don’t have Firefox.
TorrentFreak: Can you tell us what the future brings for Allpeers? Any exciting features?
Matthew: I don’t want to ruin the suspense by giving away too many details, but we are focusing heavily on expanding the notion of Social BitTorrent that I described earlier. We’ve already developed a feature to let you comment on files that people share with you, which we’re currently testing. We also have big plans for letting people create sharing communities. Right now, most people use AllPeers simply to send files to one or more people. In the future, we want to make it possible to continue to interact with content in interesting ways once it has been shared. I should be able to search for content in a given community that interests me, view comments and ratings, get recommendations for other files I might like, etc. Basically my dream would be to see an Amazon-like experience emerge, but completely open and based on BitTorrent.
TorrentFreak: Thanks Matthew for taking the time to answer our questions!