Harvard Develops P2P Client that uses Bandwidth as “Currency”

Harvard researchers have teamed up with the Tribler team to work on a P2P client with BitTorrent support that uses bandwidth as a global currency. They released Tribler V4.1 yesterday.

Yes, Harvard, the richest University in the world recently started a new line of P2P research. They have an army of law professors to protect them, so unlike others, they must feel safe to do this controversial research in the land of the free and the home of the RIAA/MPAA.

The Harvard project is all about a fresh new approach. To be honest, have we seen a new trick since eMule and Bittorrent started? Things have clearly slowed down in the last years.

The Harvard researchers are currently working on one of hardest P2P problems, ensuring uploads. P2P dies or thrives depending on how much upload people donate. By introducing electronic “currency” for uploads they think they can make P2P HDTV Video on Demand possible. With the minor detail that we all have to switch to their client…

The latest version of Tribler enhances the standard tit-for-tat BitTorrent algorithms with something they call the give-to-get algorithm (PDF article). This new algorithm allows their users to benefit from a good ratio without using a central server like private BitTorrent trackers do.

Tribler users can still join every BitTorrent swarm and play the tit-for-tat game with old-school BitTorrent users. But, when they meet another Tribler peer they switch to give-to-get mode where the currency meter is running. This turns the Tribler network into a private Tracker network without the central server. This basically means, the more you share, the faster your downloads will go.

Every Tribler client keeps an eye on MByte counts of fellow peers. They gossip around about who is a leecher and who is a top dog, without the details of which Hollywood movie it was. The only information displayed about this in the GUI is a list in your profile of the “Top 10 Tribler Uploaders”. For the next version of Tribler they plan to turn that list of top dog uploaders into a decentralized trust system and enable users to correct typos and add tags to the content. In short, BitTorrent would go “2.0″.

But let’s first see if they can really handle network pollution and spam without a central server. It will be quite tricky to get such “Google PageRank” trust algorithms working in P2P.

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