kNOw Future Inc.

law, technology and cinema, washed down with wine

P2P v Web 2.0

At the moment we’re going through the interviews recorded in the United States during April, and there’s tons of interesting stuff. Two interelated issues that we returned to repeatedly were the legal battles against P2P developers and the capture of user-created value by so-called Web 2.0 . The popularity and reach of culture or information in a network hinges on three points:

(i) Having the storage and bandwidth resources to maximise the potential distribution capacity that the scope of the internet enables. In the analogue world, popularity can be expensive if you get the economics wrong: newspapers which don’t sell enough advertising lose money on every additional copy of the paper they sell. Likewise on the net, the bandwidth necessary to deliver the music/book/film can turn into a massive bill for the creator. Youtube and myspace are built to solve this problem, and use the content to manufacture advertising opportunities.

(ii) The ability to get people interested in your work: bestseller lists, record chart top 40s, cinema box-office figures, reviews are all essentially recommendation systems means through which people select their preferences in a super-saturated market. Lasfm or Digg are good examples of this. P2P systems allow you to add comments to files and rate their quality, but the most advanced cases of preference re-customing are occurring on the web platforms linked to p2p networks. Weblogs and RSS can interact in a fertile manner with p2p infrastructures but it would be interesting to see what functionality can be created within the p2p clients themselves.

(iii) The costs in terms of time and knowledge required to find something that we are not already aware of but are interested in, also known as search costs. The best example is one which I still have time for: Amazon. Google however do the same thing by tailoring your search results. P2P systems other than Bit Torrent allow you to search and previously offered the chance to look inside the folder of users whose other offerings tickled your fancy. Litigation has made people shut off access to this, out of fear of being prosecuted by the media industry.

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Both web 2.0 and p2p systems address each of these questions. The difference is that web 2.0 absorbs users contributions to capture value and make money. This could be acceptable if users were getting something in return, and guarantees as to the protection of their privacy and the integrity and pesistence of their data. P2P systems offers the possibility of a similar, but distributed, platform to achieve the same result without the risks implicit in ceding control to one company. The problem is that the relentless litigation against p2p developers has essentially paused experimental innovation on p2p platforms.

It’s only a matter of time before conflicts involving users ‘generating content’ and web 2.0 combine harvesters become much more visible; they’re happening already. For now it will be enough for someone to come up with a trendy concept with decent functionality, married it to a less than wholesale expropriation of user-created value. This will appear comparatively noble and win some audience. Take sellaband.com or revver.com for example: manifestly imperfect yet attractive compared to the competition.

But the real hope on the horizon is that a next-generation p2p system will arise that can enable a user-operated and controlled media distribution platform, taking our fate (and potentially our revenues) out of the hands of web 2.0 operations.

May 7, 2007 - Posted by | /, p2p, social cooperation

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