Napster, Morpheus, Kazaa: either shells of their former selves, long gone, or more closely monitored than a Tweens in Jeans chat room. But while some have gone legit and others decrepit, no one has truly utilized peer-to-peer sharing for every imaginable file, like videos and warez (games and software), along with music. A truly communal, viable technology is upon us. Download junkies, digital pamphleteers, copyright holders: Meet BitTorrent.
BitTorrent's brilliance lies in interconnectivity. Old-school P2Ps like Napster connected file swappers through a central server, while later versions linked users directly, bypassing the hub. Regardless, P2P has heretofore been a one-riot, one-ranger affair: going individual to individual, speed and connectivity be damned. BitTorrent independently links and searches all users with the shared file you desire, taking a bit here, a kilobyte there, to rapidly complete your download. The more people seeding (i.e., sharing, letting their completed copy of a torrent upload upon completion), the faster you finish. You upload as you download, sharing as you go, never hogging one person's bandwidth.
Developed ostensibly by Bram Cohen to spread Linux files and other freewarez from user to user, BitTorrent (www.bitconjurer.org/BitTorrent) is aided and abetted by clients like Azureus (azureus.sourceforge.net) and Shareaza (www.shareaza.com). After installing the BitTorrent app, a client program lets a user easily swap and seed files but not search for them; since torrents are used for myriad reasons (not all of which, you guessed it, are legal), no built-in browser exists in Azureus or the like. Media torrents dwell in an ever-shifting, constantly mirrored menagerie of sites, often hosted overseas. SuprNova (www.suprnova.org) and Torrent Reactor (www.torrentreactor.net) are two such pages riddled with popular and forgotten media, cracks of popular apps and cool surprises everything from homemade MP3 mixes and mash-ups to news bloopers like "Bush-Caught off guard at press conference.mpg."
And as expected, W. and his posse are none too thrilled at new piracy prospects: Attorney General Ashcroft's Operation Fastlink recently busted hundreds across the U.S. Also, eating up hours and gigs of HD space for a cam-copy of the octoplex's latest is less than rewarding, and in some quarters, highly immoral.
Yet BitTorrent's existence is testament to the relevance of new technologies not solely entertainmentwise, either. The promise and possibility of a bandwidth-liberated, seeded, and shared community seems as boundless as the Web itself.