BitTorrent Interview

Slyck interviewed BitTorrent CEO Ashwin Navin. They talk about the future of BitTorrent, their cooperation with the MPAA, Azureus & uTorrent and a lot more.

The edited Slyck version can be found here.

Tom: So what do you think one of the biggest misperceptions is from what you read, from what we were talking about before, in the Slyck forums people have of the Bit Torrent Inc. [BT]?

BT: I think the community should understand that BT as an organization and even as a corporate entity values the contributions of all of the engineers and developers who are writing BT clients as well as those who maintain or develop BT communities or participate in them. We’re not viewing BT as a house that with different constituencies but that one that we hope remains united because there’s constructive debates that needs to take place within our community but the bigger debates need to take place between BT and other constituencies via the content industry or the internet service providers and the carriers.

Tom: What do you feel BT as a business is doing for the average BT user that he or she may not even know about or see?

BT: Well BT if it existed as a distributed development project wouldn’t have any legitimacy or role in the future of media distribution. And BT as a company is able to sit at a table and negotiate with movie studios and record labels and ISPs. If we didn’t have an organization around it, it would be easy to dismiss BT as a piracy protocol it really has a much bigger role in the world and its important that there is an organization that people can see, hear and touch.

Tom: A lot of reaction from the community seems to feel that any dealings with the MPAA, or any kind of entertainment industry such as that, is automatically labeled as bad, what would you say the counter of that argument would change the opinion of a lot of people that feel that way?

BT: I can’t blame them its easy to actually I’ll say it differently, it’s easy to come to that conclusion when you see scary press releases from MPAA or RIAA that vilify us as consumers and customers of their product. There are people within these organizations, who, within record labels, within movie studios, within the trade associations that question those tactics as well, so were not, we cant, by coming to the conclusions that you mentioned is not an unreasonable thing to do. The content industry is on the verge of embracing these technologies. In the past the lawyers in these businesses governed the decision making with respect to peer to peer [p2p] and in the coming months the business people and the decision makers outside of the legal organization are going to weigh in and decide how they want to work with p2p developers in general.

Tom: Bandwidth capping, bandwidth bottling: these are all very big concerns for a lot of people, BT’s involvement with that is?

BT: If ISPs treat BT as a faceless enemy and a protocol that can be categorically dismissed,
as a piracy protocol then we all lose, consumers, users, BT users, BT developers, anyone that has any commercial ambition around the torrent protocol…. Phone rings ….So what we’ve spent extraordinary amounts of time we spent an extraordinary amount of time face to face with the largest ISPs in the world who now see anywhere between a third and up to 70% of all their traffic in the BT protocol. Trying to convince them that there’s a better way to manage the BT protocol then to limit it and to shape it, we’ve been strong advocates of the caching solution in the next version of the BT client, the main line client, what we are calling the Allegra release, there’ll be a protocol which allows ISPs to cache BT content, BT protocol which is a great thing for users. Improves the user experience for downloading with BT no matter what client it is as long as it implemented the Cache Discovery Protocol and it also offers ISPs a cost effective way to allow BT to exist on their networks.

Tom: So this is going to be something that the ISP will be readily able to … the client will already existing its just up to the ISPs whether or not they want to hop on board so to speak.

BT: Right so… a lot of ISPs did not even know there was a caching solution for the BT protocol, and as we’ve taking it upon ourselves to educate them on behalf of our users and all the other developers of the protocol to implement a user friendly way to manage the cost.

Tom: We were talking before a little about if it’s a house divided we all fall. Can you expand on that a little bit?

BT: The number 1 priority for all for us as developers is to maintain the inoperability of the protocol. A forked protocol becomes difficult for ISPs to work with and to cache and all we require is better communication and understanding amongst all of us developers to set a direction for the protocol and to involve in a constructive way or to expose that discussion to the ISPs so that they don’t feel blind sided by the direction of our development so we actually own the domain BitTorrent.org which we are now contributing sort of to the community for the purpose of creating a communication mechanism for all of us to hopefully constructively debate different directions, different extensions, the protocol can take. This includes things like encryption, cache discovery; a few of the new extensions that we’ve developed are things like Get Pieces Fast which will have dramatic performance improvements to the BT protocol.

Tom: What is that called again?

BT: Get Pieces Fast

Tom: And what is that exactly?

BT: When you kick off a torrent download there’s a period of time when your client is looking for peers, and so that sluggishness to kick off a download is addressed by Get Pieces Fast. It’s a new extension that we are putting into a new client I think we have documented it on BitTorrent.org other developers should feel most welcome to debate whether they think it’s a good thing or not for their implementations.

Tom: Can you just go into a bit more technical detail or is that readily available information?

BT: That’s all completely exposed on .org. and so .org is still in development but in the future you should expect basically a platform for every developer to blog about, discuss and debate developments to the protocol.

Tom: Maybe a year back there was talk about BT 2.0, is that something that still on the table or is this going to be evolution of what’s currently out there?

BT: It was sort of a research project. The big problem with a “BT 2.0” is that it would break inoperability and I think with as many sort of big pressing issues facing us as a community again the most important thing is to maintain our inoperability to present our agenda to the ISPs as one group or one entity or coherent group of developers and to actually see them making investments into a p2p friendly architecture before we start to even think about how to make a new protocol for this kind of delivery. I’m optimistic that in several places in the world that the investments in architecture are already being made to embrace p2p rather than filter it or shape it adversely.

Tom: What are some of the biggest problems and what are some of the more significant solutions that are facing bit torrent right now?

BT: The most important thing is that we get reputable publishers using BT tools to put content on the web deployed with the BT protocol. The more publishing activity that goes on the more difficult it will be for ISPs, for example, to dismiss us categorically. The greatest thing that can happen for all of us as developers, p2p developers, is for Hollywood studios, record labels, independent film makers, independent musicians, software developers, to start deploying their products with BT because now at that point BT will have cemented its self as a protocol that’s not going away, and that the politicians or decision makers within the content industry or the service provider industry, will have to recon with.

Tom: As far as the end user in terms of the performance of the BT protocol what kind of new features can the user be looking forward to?

BT: I think there’s a lot of creativity that’s going on and in the uTorrent implementations, for example, we’re big fans of the work that ludde is up to and some of us at BT actually think that Azureus had some decent ideas on a product level it would be great if their download was a little be more efficient but these are all things we hope to discuss on BitTorrent.org what we would like to do on a product level is also serve as an aggregator of content so that publishing activity on the part of independent film makers, media companies and the like would all live in one place and then anyone interested in distributing that content or making that available on their own sites can essentially sublicense that content from BitTorrent.com.

Tom: What kind of influence does the entertainment industry primarily the MPAA have on any aspect of the BT protocol?

BT: We were available to the MPAA when they have technical questions we’re also via our search engine able to remove links in our search engine that point to films which they believe are infringing on their copy writes.

Tom: Say you have this new idea will really facilitate the distribution of a file and it can be readily adapted by more organizations, like The Pirate Bay, that are not so interested with playing nice with the entertainment industry, what kind of reaction would BT have if the MPAA asks, maybe don’t implement that idea? Or do they?

BT: BT is an open source project and always will be.

Tom: Right, but say there’s an idea that’s a little on the down low nobody really knows about it would they have any influence whether or not it would come to fruition or not.

BT: Well I mean we have to be able to look people in the eye and explain with honesty and candor why we make certain decisions, it’s the world we live in, and that’s true. What we do when we speak to the developer community as well as the public community. That’s the line we have to walk. And people are developing their own p2p products or sites they can chose to use elements of the protocol that they believe in or not it’s an open book.

Tom: As a follow up to my last question about the MPAA’s influence over BitTorrent development; have they, or any other entertainment entity, pressured BitTorrent, Inc. into abandoning a potential feature or direction?

BT: Never. We design our own products and our product strategy and development process has never been coerced by any third party.

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