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BitTorrent Will Be Fine
November 9, 2008
Thomas Mennecke
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By all accounts, the teetering world economy has helped P2P and free file-sharing rebound from the clamors of impending calamity. At no point in the history of file-sharing has the population been higher or grown at a steadier rate. The Pirate Bay, currently the largest file-sharing community residing within the BitTorrent protocol, has surged to nearly 25 million peers. Even The Pirate Bay's blog appears to be in shock, remarking, "Wtf is going on?"

Whether or not you agree with the politics of The Pirate Bay, it's easy enough to separate the rhetoric and simply enjoy the nature of P2P. With over 24 million users, there's no shortage of media to choose from. And despite the impending legal battle with the Swedish government, there's virtually no concern that The Pirate Bay will be departing any time soon.

Even if The Pirate Bay were to vanish tomorrow, there would still be a critical mass remaining to reform a new community. As Napster, FastTrack, ShareReactor, and AudioGalaxy have all proved, simply unplugging a network does nothing to prevent the remaining community from continuing their sharing habits. With video sharing becoming an increasingly important aspect of file-sharing, and the BitTorrent infrastructure in place to ensure its feasibility, it seems that P2P and file-sharing will continue the impressive strides made in the last few months.

Placing an exact estimate on the size of the overall P2P community is no simple task. Thanks to the entertainment industry's legal pursuits, the 8 million or so centralized P2Pers existing in the middle of this decade have dispersed into well over 20 million scattered peers. If this was a military operation, the entertainment industry's situation would probably be described as a quagmire. In the absence of an exact number, let's try to estimate a population. If the Pirate Bay has ~25 million individuals, we could add another ~2 million LimeWire users to that number. eDonkey2000/Overnet still has an impressive population as well, and continues to support over 3 million people, so now we're looking at nearly 30 million individuals. There’s still DirectConnect, Ares Galaxy, WinMX, and several other smaller communities too. DirectConnect is too scattered to place an exact number on, but recent bandwidth gauges indicate an impressive population.

Even if we don’t include these smaller communities, 30 million peers is a tremendous number. Oh, and that’s not including the population on Usenet or IRC either – both of which are often times underestimated. Regardless, any reports that tell you that P2P is contracting should be taken with a grain of salt. While free P2P seems to be enjoying its best numbers yet, commercialized P2P may be in serious trouble.

There are two commercial P2P stores which, if they were to succeed, would probably be the epicenter of file-sharing marketing – BitTorrent’s BEN (BitTorrent Entertainment Network) and Vuze’s HD Network. Both BitTorrent, Inc. and Vuze (the BitTorrent client formerly known as Azureus) have two very important attributes going in their favor: they are both trusted by their respective communities, and they both have impressive populations following them. Certainly, with millions of individuals using both clients, it shouldn’t be so hard to translate just a fraction of them into paying customers, right?

To say that either store or company has been unsuccessful would be flat out wrong. Both BitTorrent, Inc. and Vuze have gained a certain level of traction since their inception. According to NewTeeVee, Vuze has started to abandon its paid content in exchange for ad-supported downloads. Additionally, Vice President of marketing, John Fernandez told NewTeeVee that revenue has increased 5 fold since April, and expects to break even in 2009. Not bad considering the dismal state of the economy. Both BitTorrent and Vuze have been able to generate impressive capital as well, an indication that venturists have faith that the platforms could be successful in the future.

But the future is where things could get dicey. Both Vuze and BitTorrent, Inc. have gone through at least two rounds of layoffs this year. Vuze laid off 12 individuals in both April and August of this year, while BitTorrent, Inc. laid off 20% of its staff in August, and half its remaining employees earlier this week. That leaves BitTorrent with around 20 employees – not to mention the loss of President and co-founder Ashwin Navin, who gave the company an identity and consistent message.

Now we’re left with a BitTorrent, Inc. with an uncertain future. Its management has been shaken up, including the announcement of a new CEO on November 7th. By replacing the CEO with a former CTO, the move appears to focus the company more on the technology side of BitTorrent, rather than the BEN. The NY Times report stated that a company insider divulged the BEN might be completely shelved. We’ll see.

It remains to be seen how BitTorrent, Inc. and Vuze emerge from their current economic situations. A turn around in the world economy may change the fortunes for both companies. But to put the trouble that commercial P2P is in right now, think of it like this. If The Pirate Bay, BitTorrent, Inc. and Vuze were all hiring right now, which would you submit your application to?


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