When Bram Cohen first revealed BitTorrent on a public message board on July 2nd 2001, he never imagined it would quickly become one of the main generators of Internet traffic. Now, exactly a decade later, BitTorrent is used by hundreds of million of people worldwide. To celebrate BitTorrent’s 10th anniversary, Bram Cohen joins us to look back at the past and ahead to the future.
“My new app, BitTorrent, is now in working order, check it out here,” Bram Cohen wrote on a Yahoo! message board on July 2, 2001.
It was the first time a working copy of the BitTorrent code had been made available to the public, but the initial response wasn’t exactly overwhelming.
“What’s BitTorrent, Bram?” was the one reply he received on the board.
Despite this underwhelming response, BitTorrent was born. In the weeks and months that followed more people started to become aware of its potential. The music-sharing community Etree was one of the first paces where its full capacity was tested in the wild.
“Early tests used losslessly compressed audio files from Etree, a fan community where people could upload self-recorded concert footage by artists who allowed recordings. That kickstarted it all. Also, Slashdot gave us some early coverage that definitely attracted the attention of engineer influencers,” Bram told TorrentFreak.
It turned out to be the start of something big, something really big. Fast forward a decade and BitTorrent is part of the daily routines of millions of people. Hundreds of petabytes of data are transferred over BitTorrent every day and this number continues to rise.
Bram Cohen on BitTorrent’s 10 year anniversary
A question Bram probably heard a few times over the years is why he came up with BitTorrent in the first place. In hindsight this may seem to be a stupid question, but the idea behind BitTorrent wasn’t so obvious in the early 2000s.
“Fundamentally, I was trying to figure out how people on the Internet could utilize all the unused upstream bandwidth to make it faster to send huge files,” Bram told TorrentFreak.
“The technology has been a success in that it works the way I had envisioned and lots of people use it. However, there are many use cases where BitTorrent could potentially be applied, and as file sizes explode, the protocol is increasingly relevant,” he adds.
Today, BitTorrent does indeed utilize much of the consumer upstream traffic that would otherwise lie unused. In fact, recent estimates show that BitTorrent accounts for more than half of all upstream traffic on the Internet in many locations, including the United States.
However, as Bram emphasizes there is also a lot of untapped potential in BitTorrent. Only recently Twitter and Facebook discovered that BitTorrent was a life saver for them, and today its helping these tech giants distribute files across their servers faster and more efficiently than any other alternative. And the opportunities don’t end there.
Aside from everything that went right, the original BitTorrent code was also improved on many times in the last decade.
“There were two changes that had a significant impact,” Bram told us. “With the first in-the-wild testing in 2001, there was no Web integration or real UI. You had to do everything manually, which was awful. The Web UI in 2002 made it easy for anyone to use.”
“The second improvement was uTP, finalized last year. Overnight, BitTorrent became good Internet citizens, simply by voluntarily de-prioritizing our protocol traffic when a network is over-congested. We don’t cause network congestion today.”
But not only on the code side was significant progress made. In 2004 Bram Cohen co-founded the BitTorrent Inc. company to turn his increasingly popular file-sharing protocol into a business. Although the company is doing well today thanks to acquiring the popular BitTorrent client uTorrent in 2006, looking back Bram things he might do things differently if he could start over now.
“If I had to do it all over again, I’d have kept the company more focused on core technologies from day one. We have a lot of smart people who have a lot of great ideas, and on occasion have become distracted. Today, I’m very focused on live streaming.”
Looking ahead, streaming is one of the new territories where BitTorrent may play a more important role in the coming years. It can save publishers tens of thousands of dollars in distribution costs and allows everyone to stream content to large audiences.
“BitTorrent may be able to play a role in creating experiences for stuff to start playing as soon as you hit a Web page, for example. Streaming is also going to play a role, outside of Live streaming, the new protocol I’m building.”
“Also, until bandwidth becomes virtually free, BitTorrent adds value to the ultimate goal of moving large files. People are now not only consuming huge files, but creating and sharing them as well. Cell phone videos, hi-res pics come to mind. Who wants to create quality content and then destroy the quality just so someone else can see it?”
Today, demand for BitTorrent is greater than ever before. Despite the numerous streaming websites and direct-download portals that were launched over the years, BitTorrent continues to expand its user base. An entire generation grew up with BitTorrent and many people can’t imagine an Internet without it, ever.
We want to congratulate Bram for his groundbreaking invention that has had a tremendous impact on the Internet in the last decade, and we eagerly look forward to the next 10 years.