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Ready, set, broadcast!

June 19, 2003 13:56 IST

A brand new application is all set to revolutionise the concept of peer-to-peer file sharing


Ever since Napster attained dizzy heights of popularity, peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing applications have burst into public consciousness. Initially, it was all about sharing MP3 files. But as people discovered the true power of P2P networks, all kinds of files started getting shared and P2P was thought to have come of age.


Then the Napster cookie crumbled, leaving in its wake a bunch of clones that attempted to emulate its success. Nearly all of them worked on a common principle. The nodes in a P2P network would share a bunch of files, thus forming a huge repository of shareable files distributed across the globe. Users would then have to 'search-and-retrieve' the files that they wanted.


Lately, one person has been working on turning this P2P sharing model on its head. Jason Rohrer a computer science PhD student at the University of California, Santa Cruz has been initiating a revolution in the way users share files online by starting a project called konspire2b.


konspire2b takes P2P file sharing to a new level by using P2P broadcast mechanism.

It essentially allows the users to broadcast into the network, files that they want to share with the world. According to Rohrer, "Instead of nodes asking 'who has what I want?' I thought about them asking 'who wants what I have?'" And when he started developing the theoretical model for a P2P broadcast system, he realised that giant performance leaps were possible if the standard 'search-and-retrieve' interaction model was dropped.


In a konspire2b network, it's all about channels and broadcasts. Announcements for files being shared are made on various channels, and a node will respond to an announcement on a channel only if that node has subscribed to that channel. The files will then be broadcast on the channel and the nodes that have subscribed to the channel will download them. Once a file has been broadcast and a node misses the broadcast, there is no way for the node to download that file unless it is broadcast again.


Sounds like TV or radio, doesn't it? The team behind the project seems to think so too. They say, konspire2b operates much like a radio system: if you miss the show, you miss it, unless the station decides to rebroadcast the show later.


To understand exactly how a konspire2b-based app will work, head over to the how it works section on the site for a detailed and illustrated explanation.


Another important aspect of konspire2b is the use of digital signatures to verify that the files being broadcast and downloaded are legitimate. This, according to Rohrer, is basically to eliminate spam. With the use of digital signatures, Rohrer assures, "it is virtually impossible for an outsider to 'pollute' a high-quality konspire2b channel with unwanted spam." The use of sender and receiver keys also allows users to trust the quality of the content that you receive on the channel.


Recently, the beta-version of Kast, the first kosnpire2b-based application was released. It uses a Web-based interface that makes it possible for it to run on any modern platform.


It is quite clear that, konspire2b puts the power of sharing files in the hands of individual users. This is pretty much like weblogging where the users frequently post new content on a site for the world to access. In fact, according to the claims made by the konspire2b team, the distribution power of the application could be leveraged to post files of any size to your channel. They say, "on your blog, you might have a 'picture of the day'. On your konspire2b channel, you can have a 'movie trailer of the day' or even a 'gnu/linux distribution of the day'. Bandwidth limitations are essentially taken out of the equation."


These claims of a weblogging revolution are currently not borne out if one looks at the applications available on konspire2b. Kast does not provide an easy way to maintain a weblog, though it could be achieved in a couple of roundabout ways. Kast, however, is in beta version. Quite possibly future versions or new apps on konspire2b will address this issue. In theory though, konspire2b looks like a good tool to be leveraged for posting high-bandwidth content on weblogs. However, for simple text-based weblogs, konspire2b might not be the right choice.


Comparison with other file sharing applications is inevitable. The primary difference is that in konspire2b the nodes actively broadcast files to be shared, whereas in Gnutella or KaZaA, users need to fire a search for the files they need and then download the files from the results of their search. Other systems like Freenet use the concept of pushing the documents to all nodes in a network, but konspire2b pushes documents to only those nodes in the network that have subscribed to that channel. The file sharing application that resembles konspire2b the most is BitTorrent. This page is dedicated to explaining how different (and better) konspire2b is when compared to BitTorrent.


Rohrer plans to keep the konspire2b project completely free and open-source. "There will never be a 'pro' version that people will have to pay for," he promises.


According to Rohrer, currently there are at least 150 Kast nodes on the Net. Moreover, GeoLink, a research project at the University of California, Santa Cruz, uses konspire2b to distribute location-specific content. And with an architecture that's supposed to perform its best when working with a huge user-base, the increasingly popular konspire2b is all set to revolutionise the concept of P2P file sharing online.


Sameer G