why not peer to peer?

Remember those hypey days of 2000-2001, when peer to peer was going to sweep the world of internet software development? What happened? Why is the current hype *web* 2.0 rather than p2p 2.0? Why is hip software these days written for the browser rather than for client-based P2P? What were P2P’s technical shortcomings that led to the LAMP stack becoming dominant in its place?

The [decentralization] list, which was a home for p2p discussion during the hype bubble, briefly revived from its long deep sleep this week when, as Phil Wolff put it in a blog post titled Skype Journal: The decline of P2P and Decentralisation,

Ecademy’s Julian Bond kicked the decentralization mailing list to life with a post asking about The decline of P2P and Decentralisation.

Phil did a great job summarizing the conversation, so don’t read me, read him.

4 thoughts on “why not peer to peer?

  1. I think that the biggest reason why P2P desktop applications have fallen by the wayside is mentioned. P2P applications are at least an order of magnitude more complicated than client-server apps (which are another order of magnitude more complex than single-user apps).

    For that much complexity, P2P doesn’t offer a whole lot in return. Sure you can leverage your users’ bandwidth and hard drive space, but if you have any sort of profit mechanism you can probably afford S3. Bandwidth is a lot cheaper than it was in 1999. Plus the bandwidth you get probably sucks, due to the asynchronous nature of consumer broadband.

    The biggest benefit of P2P I see is that you can avoid directly breaking laws that curb what you can publish. While there are noble and ignoble reasons to do so, I think it has a limited value that the existing players have mostly exploited.

    There’s also the question of whether the value of P2P lies in the network protocol or the user experience. What made Napster great from a user perspective was that you put your music into the pot and mix it with everyone else’s and benefit from the aggregated pieces. Isn’t the same thing happening with “web 2.0” sites like Wikipedia? Wikipedia’s architecture is only slightly less P2P than Napster’s central-server-indexing scheme.

    Oh, and it must say something about the target audience that a proposed P2P SIP is offered as evidence that P2P is still healthy but BitTorrent isn’t mentioned.

  2. Wow, interesting thread.

    I am actually working with a truly decentalized global organization (it’s now more like 50 separate organizations connected through organizational protocols): they are creating a centralized intranet site.

    However, while the mechanism of the intranet will be centralized (e.g., the server and it’s application), the content and uses of the intranet will remain decentralized.

    So, this might be a relevant, non-technology-centric, model for p2p architectures: look at the decentralized (social, content, interaction, identity, etc.) needs of people and implement the most appropriate technical architecture to support that.

    Of course, “appropriate architecture” is loaded, in that, if it were a common option to use a p2p network, and the disaster tolerance* of such a network were a factor, I think p2p architectures would be more commonly used.

    * disaters could include hardware / service failure, or bad governance, exploitation of user information, etc.

  3. To George’s point that “you put your music into the pot and mix it with everyone else’s and benefit from the aggregated pieces,” a truly global catalog seems to be the one feature that only P2P networks can support. YouTube almost gets there, but the constant stream of takedown requests prevents a lot of material from getting a stable URL. In the end there is going to be a lot of stuff that they can’t get a license for and which they can’t host.

  4. To Jay’s point about mechanisms vs content and interactions, I think that the mechanisms have to be somewhat decentralized if you need to support decentralized uses. There is a bottleneck at centralized providers where the majority can pressure the provider to lock out the minority.

    I imagine that Myspace regularly takes down explicitly pedophiliac profiles. That’s in contrast to the web as a whole, where there is no one owner to exert this kind of control.

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