Wednesday, December 3, 2008

BitTorrent: Radical Decentralization

There are many forms of communication media that we all use in today’s world. From early forms of media, ranging from newspapers and magazines, to recent innovations of the twentieth century, such as televisions and cell phones, we have all used some types of these. But the most recent technological advancement in communication has been occurring via the computer, with the medium of Web 2.0. Web 2.0 is the term Tim O’ Reilly coined to explain the ever-changing technologies and trends that we as internet users go through in order to make our online experience more user-friendly. There are constantly developments being made to make communicating and sharing information quicker, and easier for the user. This platform is described as, “Web 2.0 doesn’t have a hard boundary, but rather, a gravitational core. You can visualize Web 2.0 as a set of principles and practices that tie together a veritable solar system of sites that demonstrate some or all of those principles, at a varying distance from that core.” (O’Reilly, para. 5) One specific technology that truly defines the user friendly concept of Web 2.0 is BitTorrent. The communication medium of BitTorrent is extremely complex, but at the same time, provides a great service for users looking to transfer data.

BitTorrent is a peer-to-peer file sharing protocol that is used to distribute large amounts of data amongst users over the Internet. The first protocol of the program was initially designed by Bram Cohen in April of 2001, but was actually released later that year for use by the public in July. Since then, “BitTorrent has become the global standard for delivering high-quality files over the Internet. With an installed base of over 160 million clients worldwide, BitTorrent technology has turned conventional distribution economics on its head.” It is also estimated the BitTorrent accounts to close to thirty-five percent of all traffic on the web at any given point in time. (Mack & Ratcliffe, p. 374)

One important concept that this program uses which has helped BitTorrent become the ‘global standard’ for file sharing is ‘internet decentralization’. Early downloading sources that were availible on Web 1.0, (such as worked with a main host at the center, and did not include everyone. This means that people trying to obtain and download files all went to the same host in the middle to find their files. This causes a problem because the site may become over-crowded, which will cause the download to be extremely slow. Also in most cases, central hosts were not powerful enough to handle all of the traffic that was occurring on their site which then resulted in frustrated users. So as a result of this, the concept and technology of ‘internet decentralization’ (O’Reilly, para. 30) was formed. Internet decentralization is used in peer-to-peer file transferring. This means that all the users of the program also act as a server for the files that they have on their computer. So the more popular the file is, the faster it can be found and downloaded because that many users are also acting as servers. (O’Reilly, para. 30)

There is a wide range of users of the BitTorrent program and many different reasons people choose to use the medium. Types of files that can be downloaded from the program include, pictures, music (individual tracks or complete albums), movies, individual television shows or entire series, and all different types of computer software. People use this program for many different reasons. One main reason that people use it is to obtain new software for their computers, or update an existing version of the software. Some people do not want to pay for these program updates for their computer so they decide to download it instead. People who choose to download music from the site most likely do not want to pay for tracks like they would have to if they used itunes or bought albums from the store. Instead they decide to simply download it. This provides a quicker and cheaper way to obtain the music in which they are looking for. This goes the same for movies. Instead of going to the theater to see a movie or purchasing a DVD from a store, they download it for free. Despite there being many websites that now stream movies to the user’s computer for free, a majority of these users do not like the advertisements that pop up, or the movie being segmented into smaller files. This results in them downloading the movie as a whole and they can now view it uninterrupted on their computer. (Orebaugh, Biles, Babbin, p. 108) Overall the users of this program enjoy a very convenient and cheap way to obtain all sorts of files that they may be looking for.

So now we arrive at the question, “How does BitTorrent work?” Many people imply that the user just opens up the program on their computer, searches for a file, and then magically it appears onto their computer. Well, although that may be true to a certain extent, it is actually quite a bit more difficult than that. As I already noted BitTorrent is the worldwide leader and global standard for file sharing over the internet. Obtaining such a prestigious rank does not occur over-night. This means that they have to be doing something different from those file-sharing programs of the past. According to Mack and Ratcliffe the process is complex. BitTorrent is a program that takes large files, and then breaks that file up into many small pieces. “BitTorrent downloads are not done sequentially, like regular FTP or HTTP downloads. Instead, BitTorrent clients download files in pieces, from as many different clients as possible. Clients then find out about the different locations they can download files from by checking with a BitTorrent tracker, which keeps track of everyone who is participating in the distribution of a particular file.” (Mack & Ratcliffe, p. 374)

Mack and Radcliffe have broken it down into an easy to follow seven-step procedure to help us understand the concept better. First, the user creates a “torrent” for the file which he chooses to distribute. (this ‘torrent’ is a small file that contains the information people need to know about the file to download it). Once this file has been created, it then gets registered on the web as what we know as a ‘tracker.’ (trackers help identify all those who are helping distribute a particular file) The third step is ‘seeding’ the file. (in easier terms, getting the original copy of the file into distribution on BitTorrent, done by a click of the mouse!) After that is complete, the other users from the public become involved. The fourth step involves an audience member clicking on the torrent link that was created for the file. The BitTorrent client searches the tracker to see all the users that are participating in the distribution of a certain file. When all of this is complete, it beings to download the file from the original seed. (For this example, the seed is from your own computer!) The fifth step begins to describe the evolution of BitTorrent and how this program grows so rapidly. (especially for popular files) When the next person searches a file and checks the tracker for w ho is distributing this file, the tracker now finds two machines participating in the distribution. (you, and that audience member spoken about earlier) So now the program is getting pieces of the file from both clients. (your getting it now, aren’t you?) “As more clients joint the torrent, the distribution becomes more and more distributed, allowing clients to download the file from many different clients. Files that are very popular have many people participating in the torrent, so the distribution scales accordingly” (Mack & Ratcliffe, p.375) The final step has to do with proper torrent ‘etiquette’. Once you have received a file it’s polite to keep your program up for a while to help distribute your file to other machines. (procedure from: Mack & Ratcliffe, p. 374-375)

Although everything seems perfect about this technology to the naked eye, there are quite a few problems that arise from BitTorrent. The first one takes place in the socio-economic world. Many music artists and television networks have taken up legal issues with torrent programs. They are doing so because with the technology of BitTorrent, the movie and music industries have seen a decrease in sales because people are obtaining the material they want for free, via BitTorrent. As a result of this, networks such as HBO, have began to ‘poison’ torrents of their show ‘Rome’ so that users will not be able to obtain the episodes, and hopefully purchase them instead.

One problem that causes users of BitTorrent concern is the lack of anonymity. One can find out anyone else’s IP address if they have ever sent or received a file from them. This may cause and invasion of privacy and leave their systems open to attacks. Another problem which may cause the user frustration is if they do not have a high speed connection. Like anything else on the Internet, BitTorrent works much better with a high speed connection. Using a dial-up connection may cause many disconnections and extremely slower download rates during the procedure.

Another problem that arises with the BitTorrent program is the issue of cooperation and the ‘free-rider’. (Kollock and Smith, p. 110) Once users of BitTorrent download files that they want, they have very little want or reason to become a ‘seed’ and give back to the online community. Kollock and Smith described this problem as people taking what they want from the internet, and not giving back to the community. (this is known as the ‘leech’ problem on BitTorrent) This is true in the world of torrents as well. In order to try to decrease the amount of people that may be free-riding BitTorrent have tried to set up a ratio for user’s sent and received files. Asides from trying to proportion a user’s downloads, BitTorrent has added a ‘leech resistance’ feature which encourages users to participate in both ways of the medium. (Both send and receive) (Fitzek & Reichert, p. 315)

After researching this Web 2.0 technology and communication medium I agree with O’Reilly’s statement of, “every BitTorrent consumer brings his own resources to the party. There’s an implicit “architecture of participation”, a built in ethic of cooperation in which service acts primarily as an intelligent broker, connecting the edges to each other and harnessing the power of the users themselves.” (O’Reilly, para. 31) This quote sums up the experience of BitTorrent, and if users follow this guideline, everyone will have a good experience using this technology.

Fitzek, Frank & Reichert, Frank. (2007). Mobile Phone Programming and Its Application to Wireless Networking. p.315: Springer

Kollock, Peter & Smith, Marc. (1996). Managing the virtual commons: Cooperation and conflict in computer communities. In Susan C. Herring (Ed.), Computer-mediated communication: Linguinstic, social and cross-cultural perspectives (pp. 109-128). Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Mack, Steve & Ratcliffe, Mitch. (2007). Podcasting Bible. p. 374-375.: John Wiley and Sons

O’Reilly, Tim. (2005). What is Web 2.0: Design patterns and business models for the next generation of software. Retrieved August 21, 2008 from

Orebaugh, Angela.. Biles, Simon. & Babbin Jacob. (2005). Snort Cookbook. 3.9 Detecting P2P.: O’Reilly.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008


For the past few weeks I have been observing the Web 2.0 technology of BitTorrent. BitTorrent is a peer-to-peer file sharing program which allows users to download files at a high speed. This is due to Internet Decentralization and users acting as hosts. Although the way in which the program functions may seem difficult to the user, it does not take away from the fact of how important this medium is. It provides a very easy and quick way for users of the program to obtain the files that they are looking for. I will soon post a research essay in which I examined the program deeper to educate my classmates of the technology.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Internet as a Medium

The Internet is quite different from any other form of communication media. Types of communication media are usually defined by the number of people who participate in either sending or receiving a message through the specific medium. (Adams & Clark, p.28) The most basic form of communication occurs when two people are sending and receiving messages to each other, either face to face or through a medium. Other forms of communication can also include messages being sent to reach small groups, and larger groups through what we know as mass media. The internet of today is different from all these previous forms of communication media because there are many different ways for people to communicate and interact through the communication medium called the internet. (Adams & Clark, p. 28) The internet holds many defining characteristics that make this medium work so well.

The first characteristic which clearly defines the internet as superior to other communication media is the fact that it is a dual-medium. The term ‘dual medium’ means that is can function as a ‘macromedium’ as well as a ‘metamedium’. (Adams & Clark, p. 29) When Adams and Clark defined it as a ‘macromedium’ they meant that it knows no boundaries, and reach any internet user worldwide. On the other hand, it can also be known as a ‘metamedium’ because is serves as a ‘platform for older’ and other types of media as well. (Adams & Clark, p. 29). This is also the key component that distinguishes the internet medium from the television medium. The television sends out messages to an audience and they receive it. They do not have the option of responding to what they receive. While on the other hand, users of the internet medium have the option to send and receive messages. (Adams & Clark, p. 29)

Another defining characteristic of the internet is that it is ‘multimediated’. (Adams & Clark, p. 35) It can display a wide range of media, such as different graphics, words, pictures and videos all on the same page or in a message. It can do this because of convergence. Adams and Clark define ‘convergence’ (p. 35) as the integration of once separate technologies together. An example of this on the web would be a photo gallery that someone has uploaded along with text describing the pictures. This demonstrates convergence and two separate technologies are being used together to create a more powerful outcome.

Another characteristic that defines the internet is that of ‘hypertext.’ Adams and Clark describe hypertext to be the ability to link any type of content to any other type of content. (p. 37) An example of this would be when you are on a webpage and say that there is a picture of Derek Jeter hitting a home run. The hypertext comes into play when you click the picture and then that brings you to the video of Derek Jeter actually hitting the home run. This characteristic of the internet is key to how the internet is easy to use and navigate because of the simple luxuries like this and in fact is the characteristic that the world wide web is based on. (Adams & Clark, P. 37)

Another characteristic of the internet that separates it from other forms of media is that it is ‘interactive’. On the internet we get to choose ‘our own path’. (Adams & Clark, p.59) We have control of what we access, view, read, and post. This is quite the difference from sitting in front of a television and receiving what is given to us or opening up a newspaper and only getting the news they want us to see. With the internet you access what you want when you want it. You can be reading about the Yankees at one moment, and then receiving e-mails from professors the next. This is unique and important to the ‘surfer’s’ experience with this medium. (Adams & Clark, p. 59)

A fifth characteristic that defines the internet from all previous communication media is that of it being both synchronous and asynchronous at the same time. This means that we can read something immediately as it is happening, or we can save it to read or respond to at a later time. (Adams & Clark, p. 40) This furthers the freedom and reinforces the advantages of using the internet to communicate.

These characteristics plus many more is what makes the internet a more reliable, and user-friendly type of communication media than ever before.

From: Adams & Clark. C.2. What Is It? Characteristics of the Medium

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Key to a Small World

In Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations, by Clay Shirky, the author explains how large social networks exist. The term large social network if often taken for granted because people do not fully understand how they function. They are a part of many but do not know the theory behind it. This is why Shirky explains in his article how these social networking patterns are formed and maintained.

In 1998, Watts and Strogatz released research they conducted, titled, “Small World Network”. (Shirky, 215) This was published with the intent to inform readers how exactly these social networks are created and maintained. They broke down their theory into having two main parts. The first part being that “small groups are densely connected.” (Shirky, 215) This basically means that in a small group of about five friends, everybody knows everybody. They all speak regularly, and know personal facts about one another. If one person leaves the group, it is not phased because all the people are still densely connected and do not rely on anyone to communicate with another person. The second part of Watts and Strogatz’s theory is that ‘large groups are sparsely connected.’ (Shirky 215.) This means that as your group gets larger, it is more likely that people who are in the group will not know everyone in the group. (unlike the first part of their theory) Because of this, one must combine both parts of their theories in order to have a successful social network. For example, “Instead of one loose group of twenty-five, you have five tight groups of five. The network will be sparse but efficient and robust.” (Shirky, 216)

After reading about how social networks function I realized that the social network that I am a part of works exactly the same. I have a group of friends from my hometown in Staten Island. We are all very close, and have been friends since the grammar school days. I also have a close group of friends that I made in college from the Albany area. Even though everyone that I am speaking about from the two different groups are facebook friends, dosen’t necessarily mean that they are to be considered ‘densely connected.’ Instead they are two separate smaller groups that are connected through me, because I am part of both groups. This is a prime example of the research Watts and Strogatz presented backing the theory of the “Small World Network”.

Shirky, Clay. (2008). Here comes everybody: The power of organizing without organizations (chapter 9). New York. Penguin.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Observing the Blogosphere

For my fourth essay, my assignment was to explore the blogoshere. “The blogosphere is a collective term encompassing all blogs and their interconnections. It is the perception that blogs exist together as a connected community, or as a social network.”

After looking around this ‘blogosphere’ for a while I chose the blog called This is an unofficial Manchester United Team blog created by loyal Manchester United fans. It is a highly active blog which generates hundreds of responses to each article written by the main contributor who’s user handle is ‘red ranter’. This blog allows fans of the team to come together and interact from all over the world. Fans typically go on rants reacting to the articles posted, voice team frustrations, predict lineups, and almost anything else you can possibly think of. I chose this section of the online community because like everyone else belonging to this blog, I too, am an avid Manchester United supporter. I observed the interactions on this blog for over a week and also posted a few comments as well. (User name: cr7boywonder) After reading every article and user post for over a week, I saw one main theme that Aaron Barlow discusses in his book, Blogging America, occurring over and over again. The theme that Barlow spoke about that was constantly jumping out at me was the new ‘horizontal’ structure of journalism. (Barlow, 2008)

Blogs have a ‘horizontal structure’ because it is democratic and anyone who chooses to participate in the conversation can actively do so. (Barlow, 2008) Traditional journalism, which tends to follow a ‘vertical structure’ is far different from that of blogs. This type of structure tends to have a hierarchy where only trained journalists or elite write about a specific topic. (Barlow, 2008) There are gatekeepers who regulate what types and forms of information are put out to the public. This is where blogs differ from this vertical structure. Anyone can post to a blog, without being a trained journalist. These people who decide to openly post or write about a topic who are not professional journalists can be called a ‘citizen journalist’. (Barlow, 2008) There are no ‘gatekeepers’ to regulate or say what information can be posted for internet users to instantly access and read.(Barlow, 2008)

This theme is represented many times through interactions and posts that I read while I was observing and participating on the redrants blog. The first way this ‘horizontal structure’ was demonstrated on the blog was by the pre-match lineup predictions. Before every game, hundreds on users log on to this blog and guess which lineup the Manchester United manager will send out to the pitch. There are all different views and opinions of the lineups and tactics that will be used by hundreds of fans. This interaction and conversation shows that blogs are democratic, and anyone who chooses to participate in a conversation can do so without being part of the upper end of the hierarchy. (referring to the vertical structure) (Barlow, 2008) A second way that I learned this new ‘horizontal structure’ was in effect for blogs was through my own post. Early Tuesday, November 11th, Owen Hargreaves, an important midfield player for the United club was ruled out for the rest of the season due to injury. Once I found out about this I immediately post to the blog, “hargreaves is out for the rest of the season. he played a vital role down the stretch last year to help united with the double, with scholes out and nani struggling in the midfield fergie better get something together before we fall too far behind.” This post stirred up a small conversation as frustrated fans then preceded to voice their frustrations and ongoing worries about the team. Now, I have never taken a journalism class in my life and was not trying to be professional, yet I was still allowed to post this comment. This shows that there are no gatekeepers in the structure to regulate who or what type of information is put up on the site. (Barlow, 2008) It also furthers the point that anyone can take part in the new form of ‘horizontal’ journalism and write whatever they choose to a blog.

After observing and actively participating on a blog for over a week, I now truly understand what this new type of ‘horizontal’ journalism is. It is truly democratic, as it allows anyone, professional or unprofessional, to write whatever they want without any regulation. It also shows that journalism does not have to follow a ‘vertical structure’ in order to be successful and that this new form of ‘horizontal’ journalism may catch on quicker than we think. (Barlow, 2008)

Barlow, Aaron. (2008). Blogging America. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Observation #5

My final observation day was Tuesday, November 11th. Red Ranter’s article was quite brief and just stated that all rants, frustrations, conversation and thoughts should go below his post. He seemed very irritated, like many other Manchester fans with the current form of the team, and just left a window open for the fans to converse a bout current topics. I put up a number of posts today in response to team news that happened over the night and early this morning. The first comment I made was about Sir Alex Ferguson’s (manager of Manchester) outburst at the English Premiership. He was upset because of his team having all away games on the schedule after their Champions League matches which take place midweek. (my handle is cr7boywonder) No one responded to this message and could have been due to when I put up the comment. I put it up during lineup predictions and it seemed that no one wanted to be bothered with this topic. A few hours later in the day, it was announced over in England that star midfielder Owen Hargreaves was out for the remainder of the season. As soon as I read this I posted the news on the blog, it generated a few responses. Fans again were upset, as this news added more fuel to the fire. The team is in great danger of finishing trophy-less as their problems continue to build up and no one was afraid to tell their peers how they felt. Fans ended the responses from today’s blog just hoping that the team can get their act together, and quick enough to salvage the season.

Observation #4

My fourth day of observation on redrants came on Saturday, November 8th. Today is the day of the big league clash against Arsenal which was spoken about in many earlier blogs on the site. The third and fourth place teams play each other for positioning as well as bragging rights. I woke up at 7 this morning to watch this game live from England on the computer, because it wasn’t televised in the States. I read the blog before the game and redranter posted and interesting dialogue he had with an Arsenal insider. The insider explained to red ranter that Arsenal’s coach Arsen Wenger, is frustrated with injuries to his team and feels that the league has it out to hurt his players. This did not go to well with the people who blog on this site because this is a Manchester fan page and their team has their own share of injury problems. They have 4 out of the usual 11 starters out with injury so they are in the same boat as Arsenal and were not afraid to voice their opinion. After the game was over, and Manchester suffered a disappointing 2-1 defeat at the hands of Arsenal fans were irate. They bashed the players and coaching and suggested many different ways to try to improve the situation. Even though they were bashing and irate, you could tell that the people involved in the conversation are still extremely loyal to the club and just getting their frustrations out to their peers.