Are Torrents a Tool for Predicting the Future?

1Executive Summary

File-sharing blogs are currently abuzz about a new generation of BitTorrent services — sites like Furk.net or Btaccel.com — that allow users to offload their P2P downloads to the cloud by offering something like a personal file-sharing web service. Search for a file, let the service download it for you from other people’s hard drives, and then transfer it from the cloud to any device of your liking. File-sharing web services like these may sound like yet another headache for Hollywood and the music industry, but they may provide an interesting case study for the adoption of cloud technologies by consumers.

Pirates often use very specialized technologies in their cat-and-mouse game with rights holders, most of which will never be adopted wholesale by the broader market. But music and movie downloaders have more than once proven to be on the bleeding edge of connected consumer tech, and anyone developing online services for consumers should pay attention to what they’re up to next.

A Remote Control For Online Video

Back in 2003, people talked a lot about the golden future of mobile video. Mobile phone handsets would become rich, connected devices that would get Hollywood films and live TV content from the Internet. Six years later and we’re only halfway there. There’s still no Hulu application for the iPhone, the mediocre battery life of most handhelds doesn’t support extensive long-form video viewing, and consumers have embraced laptops and netbooks as their mobile video devices of choice.

However, 2003 was also the year when a few savvy peer-to-peer developers figured out a way to make their handsets work for video in a way that still seems relevant today: The folks behind the open source P2P client Emule released a small Java application called Mobile Mule in the summer of ’03. Mobile Mule was essentially a remote control for an Emule client installed on your PC. Users could search for a file on the Emule P2P network from their cell phone and start a download on their home PC with the click of a few buttons. Mobile Mule would then continue to monitor the download. The client even grabbed a screenshot of a movie while a download was in process, so users could see if they were actually downloading the right flick.

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