To millions of users around the world, BitTorrent is a beautiful thing. Not only does it enable the worldwide sharing of any kind of media, but the manner in which it does so is a stroke of pure genius.
Utilizing the bandwidth of all participants in its ‘swarms’, BitTorrent pools the resources of many to provide a streamlined downloading experience for all. It’s both complex and simplicity itself, a rare quality indeed.
BitTorrent’s success as a protocol is tied to its low barrier to entry, since anyone with a computer and Internet connection can participate. Above and beyond that no actual money is needed to obtain content. However, the nature of the system means that it’s not entirely free, since users ‘donate’ their bandwidth to others in order to keep a swarm going.
Millions of users are extremely happy with this setup but a proposal from developer Bedeho Mender could see money being brought into the equation.
Bedeho is the founder of JoyStream, a forthcoming BitTorrent client that tries to improve BitTorrent by allowing peer-to-peer Bitcoin payments in exchange for bandwidth – or content, whichever way one prefers to look at it.
To the torrenting masses, that probably sounds a bit like a tax on air. BitTorrent’s growth has stemmed from the fact that millions of people are happy to share for free. Is it possible that by introducing money things are going to improve? Bedeho thinks so.
“BitTorrent has many strengths, but I would say people are often not sharing for free, e.g. in private communities which have far higher quality service. In that context one is required to adhere to strict and cumbersome rules about contributing to maintain ratios, and this makes the system work much better,” Bedeho tells TorrentFreak.
“JoyStream is just an open version of that very same insight, except that you now are not forced to seed to maintain your ratio, something which is not practical for everyone. The key is therefore not money, the key is incentives to supply enough bandwidth. Money is just one of many means to try to achieve this, just like we do with other goods.”
The idea behind JoyStream is simple. If you have some spare bandwidth and content that people want, you can sell access to that content through the JoyStream client. The more common that content the less likely it is that you’ll be able to charge a premium price for it. Rare material, on the other hand, might be worth someone blowing a few fractions of a bitcoin on.
In very basic terms, if the user tells it to, JoyStream will wind back its upload speed to zero and only open up it up again when someone pays.
One of the claims Bedeho makes about JoyStream is that higher download speeds will be available in this kind of system. The idea is that if seeds are getting paid, they will stick around longer and offer up more bandwidth, a bit like a user on a private torrent site trying to improve his ratio.
“All paid bandwidth comes from other peers which are paid to supply it. If you do not wish to pay to download, then you would just be using the regular BitTorrent tit-for-tat exchange procedure as is today, and JoyStream also supports that,” Bedeho explains.
“With JoyStream it may turn out that people will opt to leave their computer on to earn back whatever they have spent when buying before, so it just becomes a closed loop system. That way you wouldn’t even be spending any Bitcoins in total, over time. In such a scenario, you should still expect the quality of the open BitTorrent system to be as good, if not better, than in private communities.”
While earning money for seeding will be attractive to some, will the idea of being in a pay-to-download-faster swarm be off-putting to others? What if JoyStream took off overnight and became a significant player in most swarms?
“Just like in regular BitTorrent, if no one has a full copy of the file and is willing to seed, then the swarm would get stuck for a while. However, since there is compensation, that is much less likely to happen with JoyStream type peers, precisely because those with a full download will not always leave right away, as is common today,” Bedeho adds.
While the overall idea certainly provides food for thought, there will undoubtedly be file-sharing traditionalists shuddering not only at the mere thought of file-selling, but also at the prospect of being denied bandwidth at the hands of someone with more bitcoins to spare.
Finally (and just to throw fuel on the fire) when JoyStream is out of alpha it should work on private trackers too….
“I do not know how the torrent community will react in total, but since it is an open system, you are free to use or not use it, and I do expect there will be private communities which will ban it, and that is totally fine with me. That is what an open system like BitTorrent/Bitcoin is all about,” Bedeho concludes.