Friday, August 27, 2004

The future of Music (and all other media)

The RIAA and Justice department are back at it again. Trying to catch people, no school children!, who have been downloading music files illegally!

I wonder how long this ridiculous state of affairs will continue.

Currently, if I have to play a music file which I've (ahem!) converted from my legally bought CD anywhere at any time, I have to do a number of things. I have to keep the file on my computer. I have to copy it on an MP3 player which I can carry around. I will also probably have to broadcast it on internet radio if I want to hear my music from another PC connected to the internet (the one in Hawaii, of course!!). And finally, I have to save it on another device as a backup!!

That's really too much of a pain.

These are "Why not"s which I think will ease that pain forever.... and not only for me!

Why not have all my music on a central server? And then I can hear it from any PC on the internet anywhere, right? Even the one in Hawaii! I pay a nominal charge to the chap maintaining the server for the space he provides me.

To take it another level higher, I'm sure that the same chap will be playing the same file to other listeners as well, right? So, do I really have to buy that song? Why don't I pay him some nominal (and I mean very, very nominal!) charge each time I play that song?

Let's notch it up one more. Why don't listeners with similar tastes in music share their playlists through this ISP. Or rather I choose to listen to another playlist which I think is close to my taste. Why can't the chap maintaining the server (yup, the same guy!) create a web site like musicplasma from where I can pick up lists?

And then why can't industries who own all this media, say Sony or Time Warner, put all their media on the internet so that my server guy can serve me that too? BBC has already started putting their stuff out there (going back all the way to 1934!), so why can't the rest of the industry do the same?

And with the current trend in wireless connectivity increasing, I think it shouldn't be too long before every device has an IP address! So I should be able to hear 'my music' on my handheld (phone, PDA, watch, whatever!) as long as I'm in a wi-fi hot spot.

Finally, all this can be beamed by Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB), which promises higher quality on smaller devices, and I'm sure they'll get smaller as time goes on. By the way, the same thing can also be done with video, and guess what it's called! And if my lists get more clicks then I get a credit! Why not? After all, we listen to different radio stations for their selections. So whoever is hosting my list has more users to gain, right? I think that would open a new economic niche!

Of course, this would require a whole lot of initiatives from a whole lot of different industries, and yes, it would require visionaries, in the ISPs, in the content providers, in the music & movie industry. And please, please it would really require better websites!

And my final question - Why doesn't the RIAA and all these other chaps stop chasing people around and do some real work? According to me, the 'Recording Industry Association of America' should be ultimately responsible for giving the users of their products the best experience possible out there.

Or did I get that last one wrong?!!

Friday, August 20, 2004

What's after Bittorrent?

You know bittorrent, right? It's the way to download huge files using P2P connections. Recently, Microsoft tried to use the torrent concept to distribute it's huge SP2 patch. The concept behind bittorrent is one which is very appealing to me because it's very, very democratic! Let me explain a little more about bittorrent and it will become self explanatory.

First, to use Bittorrent, you need a bittorrent client. The one I like best is called Azareus. Bittorrent uses what are called 'torrent files'. This is basically the what has the details of the whole file that you want to download. Since this file is usually about a few tens of kilobytes in size, it hardly takes any time. Once you've got the torrent file, you point your bittorrent client to this torrent file and then the client takes over. It contacts everyone who has bits of this huge file and requests them for it.

A nice and short Bittorrent tutorial can be found here.

The difference between bittorrent and other P2P clients is that bittorrent splits the file into many pieces and then downloads the different pieces from different nodes. And the file gets aggregated locally. Unlike other P2P clients where once you've made contact with another node which has the same file, the client tries to download the entire file from that node. So in their case, the speed of download depends upon that node's upload bandwidth and your download bandwidth. Bittorrent conveniently bypasses this bottleneck!

The democratic part about bittorrent is that as soon as it gets one piece it immediately shares it with everyone else as well! That speeds the overall download!!

Now, once I got the concept, I got thinking. Usually, bittorrent is getting used currently only for downloading pirated movies and software. But maybe it can be put to better use!

And here's the earth shattering idea! All those websites are files, right? HTML files, but files nonetheless. And a file is a file, right? So, why not use the same bittorrent concept to them as well? Take any of the login pages, for example. Yahoo, Hotmail, even Google or Rediff. Why do I have to download the file from San Francisco, or wherever the server is placed. Why don't I download it from my neighbour who checked his mail a couple of hours ago?

And since HTML pages have the date and time when they were created, say if I want to check the news at BBC as of this morning, instead of like, right now, I shouldn't have to go all the way to the BBC server. I should be able to get whoever has downloaded the page since this morning, who's geographically closer to me and who's online. And if there are many people online, I can get the different bits from everyone and my page will load even faster!!

What do you think, should I patent this idea? I don't have a goddamn clue about the technology behind all this, so I'm clueless as Dr. Watson after a murder.

Any Sherlocks out there?