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Is P2P Old Hat or Cutting Edge?


After a meteoric rise that coincided with the popularity of Napster, the peer-to-peer computing meme seemed to come crashing down last summer, buried in part by a Wall Street Journal article penned by Lee Gomes that portrayed P2P companies as dotcom refugees looking for the next big scoop of venture capital.

In a recent discussion on O'Reilly's editors list, open source editor Andy Oram wondered if the excitement around peer-to-peer computing was really gone or just taking a breather before its next big rush. The feedback from other editors tended to support the latter ...

From: Andy Oram andyo@oreilly.com
Date: Thu, 10 Jan 2002 17:41:08 -0500 (EST)

At an editors meeting just now, Tim mentioned an article of mine that launched our company's interest in peer-to-peer. It's an honor to be praised by my boss for an article that I wrote 18 months ago. As you all know, we're responding to signals from our core audiences that peer-to-peer is a dumb and overplayed concept; we've moved away from it to related things like Web services and various specific manifestations of the concept.

The O'Reilly Emerging Technology Conference
Building on the momentum and excitement of the O'Reilly Peer-to-Peer and Web Services Conference -- May 13-16, 2002, Santa Clara, CA.

But something strange happened to me as I sighed and turned back to more conventional topics. People kept on calling me and asking me to be a spokesperson for the P2P movement. I've delivered two speeches and it seems just to whet the appetite of conference organizers for more. (I'm turning them down, finally. I'm actually getting tired of repeating the basic themes over and over.)

One technology who is on top of lots of Internet trends just discovered peer-to-peer. I was surprised to get email from him that displayed the awe (yes, that's the term for it) that people were showing for the concept back at the beginning of 2001. He's already written a cover article on peer-to-peer for his newsletter, and will probably interview either Rael or me for a longer article.

And the other kinds of calls I'm getting are from organizations representing institutions like universities that do a lot of network administration. They're still in the turn-of-2001 mindset of grappling with the question, "Could peer-to-peer mean more than crippling bandwidth requirements on our campus networks?"

These people seem to be asking for something. Maybe what we need to do is market our existing materials to them better. Or maybe we can lead them to new materials. I'm asking for some discussion and advice.

I thought for several months that our audience had moved on; they saw the point of peer-to-peer and were ready to discard it as a buzzword. Now I wonder if they never reached the point where we were in February 2001 when we held the first P2P conference. Maybe they're bored because they're one cycle behind, not one cycle ahead.


From: Dave Sims dave@oreilly.com
Dave: Thu, 10 Jan 2002 15:05:47 -0800 (PST)

Ah, the dangers of being _too_cutting edge: everything feels passé, long before the rest of the world discovers it.

Our articles on p2p file-sharing apps continue to appear in our Top 5 articles, week after week. An article on Morpheus, written by Kelly Truelove in June, is our #3 article on O'Reilly Network this week. An article comparing Napster clones, written by Steve McCannell last April, remains in our all-time top 10. Now, you can dismiss this and say that these hits come from kids looking for free music, but I tend to disagree: one doesn't need to visit the O'Reilly Network to learn how to download and use Morpheus. These are people curious for more information, I believe.

In the online group, we know there's still tremendous curiousity about P2P applications, even under that much-derided label.

- Dave

From: Bruce Epstein - Zeus Productions bruce@zeusprod.com
Date: 10 Jan 2002 20:48:35 -0500

At 03:05 PM -0800 01/10/02, Dave Sims wrote:
> Ah, the dangers of being _too_cutting edge: everything 
> feels passé, long before the rest of the world 
> discovers it.

I'll add my voice to Andy's and Dave's. I think P2P is still largely unknown to the masses. ORA readership is way ahead of the average computer user, but the remainder of computer book readers will probably want more P2P info for at least another year, maybe two.

Whenever I post a blog entry about P2P, it seems to generate significant interest.

My two cents...


From: Rael Dornfest rael@oreilly.com
Date: Fri, 11 Jan 2002 13:13:09 -0800

On 1/10/02 5:48 PM, "Bruce Epstein - Zeus Productions" sayeth:

> I'll add my voice to Andy's and Dave's. I think P2P is 
> still largely unknown to the masses. ORA readership is 
> way ahead of the average computer user, but the remainder 
> of computer book readers will probably want more P2P info 
> for at least another year, maybe two.
Coming soon from O'Reilly -- What is the promise of P2P?

Calls I get are invariably from enterprise focused individuals, magazines, reporters, and the like. These folks are most concerned with how all this affects IT, firewalling, management, and traditional groupware. They don't give a tinker's about copyright violation, wareZ, anonymity, ...

While we're (and I mean not just O'Reilly, but those to whom P2P is so, like, last February) up on the beach sipping lemonade and eating tofu burgers, surfboards planted triumphantly in the ground, there are plenty taking tentative steps on the smaller waves that are left.

P2P has ceased, in and of itself, to be fascinating, but it's still making waves. While we may not want to have a P2P conference or a P2P book or P2P site per se, it should wend its way through our projects along with the likes of open standards/source/data, XML, networking, identity, et al.


From: Jonathan Gennick Jonathan Gennick
Date: Thu, 10 Jan 2002 20:35:24 -0500

Isn't it P2P that really got the web started? Researchers wanted to share notes and data so someone threw together a browser and a markup language to make it easy to browse around and find the files that you wanted. As I understand it, early browsers were text-based. At some point someone decided that the browser should not only allow you to download a photo, but to view it as well.

My point here is that (it seems to me) the desire to collaborate is what drove the early web. Perhaps at first it was even peer-to-peer, but as more people without "always-on" Internet connections got on the bandwagon, the need developed for ISPs to host web sites.

Why is it that when people became interested in listening to music that browsers suddenly weren't good enough? Why is it that people decided to serve mp3 files off their home PCs as opposed to uploading those files to an ISP? Why do I go to an ISP to host my web site, but not to host my mp3 files? (not that I have any mp3 files).

Well, I don't know all the answers, but it does seem to some extent that we are reinventing ways to collaborate, or perhaps inventing new ways to collaborate, and that the need or desire to participate in a wider community is still a driving force. So in a sense I wonder if the current interest in P2P technologies is the extension of a longer, over-arcing trend.

Related to the above, I find it incredibly annoying that broadband service providers seem to stand diametrically opposed to anything resembling collaboration and P2P.

I like the fact that we're philosophizing like this.

Best regards,

Jonathan Gennick
Associate Editor, O'Reilly & Associates
906.387.1698 mailto:jgennick@oreilly.com

From: Tim O'Reilly tim@oreilly.com
Date: Thu, 10 Jan 2002 17:40:21 -0800

I still see a fair amount of interest in peer to peer as well. I still think it's a subsidiary idea to a bigger network computing picture, but it's still an important piece of the puzzle. We definitely want to keep our hand in. As P2P projects take off, there WILL be tech that deserves books. But it's a bit like storage. RAID became more commonplace, but not necessarily the subject of books...just the way storage tends to work. Similarly, I do think that p2p will melt into the background. Not because it is dead but because it's ubiquitous.

As with all new tech that doesn't quite catch, we shouldn't "abandon" it if we slow down on it. We should keep our finger on the pulse.

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