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Is BitTorrent Search Harmful? 136

protee writes "p2pnet published a report arguing that the robustness of BitTorrent to free-riding might have been more related to the lack of meta-data search rather than to its tit-for-tat-like strategy. The question now is: how the release of such search engines is going to impact the BitTorrent network?"
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Is BitTorrent Search Harmful?

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  • by CyricZ ( 887944 ) on Sunday June 12, 2005 @10:41AM (#12794646)
    Such networks thrive because individuals can find the content they want. Searches will help improve that much as has happened with the World Wide Web. Remember, it didn't become explosively popular until the early search engines like Yahoo!, Altavista and Magellan came about.
    • Difference: The early Web flourished in .edu circles, where there are likely to be a lot of people dedicated to providing educational works of authorship on fat pipes. BitTorrent, on the other hand, is often blocked by .edu ISPs, and residential customers of commercial ISPs don't have nearly the fat pipes to supply everyone who wants to download a given file.

      • by CyricZ ( 887944 ) on Sunday June 12, 2005 @10:54AM (#12794754)
        But they don't need the "fat pipes" to supply everyone who wants to download a given file. That's the very nature of BitTorrent! Indeed, the decentralized nature of BitTorrent allows for individuals or non-profit projects (ie. Slackware) to distribute massive files at neglible cost.
        • Even bittorrent needs the 'fat piepes', it can't magically create bandwidth out of nowhere. Only thing that bittorrent helps with it that those that publish the file in the first place don't need a 'fatpiepe', but those who download can provide them. If you want to distribute to the masses you simply need a bunch of people that can upload more then they download, if you are stuck with ADSL people who can download at 100kb/s or more, but only upload at 15kb/s at best you naturally run into problems, even wit
          • IIRC, many BT networks limit your download to your upload - not even for just a single file but over your lifetime use of files.

            Another solution is that while you dl twice as fast as you ul, leave the torrent open for a few days.

            Nearly every BT I have uploaded about 1.5-2.5 by the time it reaches 100%. It is a problem that in part solves itself.

            • Nearly every BT I have uploaded about 1.5-2.5 by the time it reaches 100%. It is a problem that in part solves itself.

              What happens if you get in on the tail end of a torrent, and demand for the file from other users falls off so that your share ratio on a given file never gets up to 1.0 even if you seed for a month?

              • I'm not sure I see your point. If there's no longer any demand for the file, then there's no bandwidth problem to speak of.
                • I'm not sure I see your point. If there's no longer any demand for the file, then there's no bandwidth problem to speak of.

                  Trackers that require users to register generally require each user to maintain a high share ratio in order to not be banned. If one gets in on the tail end of too many torrents, where demand falls off, the precipitous drop in demand can bring a user's share ratio reputation down. Point is that though people who just jump off when the download completes are a problem, strict enforce

                  • Unless you're a relatively new user on that system, it's going to take a lot of low-demand torrents to hurt your share ratio that severely, and in my experience with seeding, this occurs very infrequently. I suppose I could have just been lucky up until now, though. Obviously, it's important to be lenient to the new users while they establish a share ratio, but beyond that I just can't see this as a potential problem.
          • > If you want to distribute to the masses you simply need a bunch of people that can upload more then they download

            indeed. they can do it over time

            > if you are stuck with ADSL people who can download at 100kb/s or more, but only upload at 15kb/s at best you naturally run into problems, even with bittorrent.

            a problem fixed by the very behaviour of each serious user who downloads then lets the file on his disk (seeding it) 'till it reaches at last a few days there or a good (> 1) share ratio

            • Seriousness (Score:2, Informative)

              by tepples ( 727027 )

              a problem fixed by the very behaviour of each serious user who downloads then lets the file on his disk (seeding it) 'till it reaches at last a few days there or a good (> 1) share ratio.

              True, but as a file transfer system becomes easier for novices to use, it is likely to draw users who aren't "serious", who cancel the upload as soon as the download completes. And if you try to enforce share ratios on a registered tracker, remember that the mean share ratio across all users is exactly 1.0; therefor

              • remember that the mean share ratio across all users is exactly 1.0

                Receiving 200MB of a 200MB file doesn't mean you have everything. Checksum errors are fairly common on BitTorrent, and redownloading the entire piece (size depends on the .torrent, seems to be 512 KB most of the time) is the only option. This makes the actual ratio more like 1:1.0005 or so.

                It also means that if everyone has exactly 1.0, someone will likely be missing a piece.
              • True, but as a file transfer system becomes easier for novices to use, it is likely to draw users who aren't "serious", who cancel the upload as soon as the download completes. And if you try to enforce share ratios on a registered tracker, remember that the mean share ratio across all users is exactly 1.0; therefore not everybody can have a cumulative ratio >= 1.0. What happens when demand falls off for a file, and though you leave the upload going, nobody downloads more than a couple megabytes for day

  • Yeah! (Score:5, Funny)

    by Seumas ( 6865 ) * on Sunday June 12, 2005 @10:42AM (#12794653)
    That Braham Cohen is so dumb, he probably never considered anything like this when he put together his own official bit torrent search engine. What does he know, sitting there coding in his mommy's basement when all the real geniuses are on Slashdot and p2pnet!

    I mean, c'mon... *eyeroll*
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 12, 2005 @10:43AM (#12794659)
    ...when they can't be traced. Up the encryption and IPsec and you'll find that people will start to share.
  • Network? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by julesh ( 229690 ) on Sunday June 12, 2005 @10:50AM (#12794716)
    The question now is: how the release of such search engines is going to impact the BitTorrent network?

    The answer: not at all. There isn't a BitTorrent network, just an application that has caused many thousands of disjoint, single purpose networks to come into existance.

    And that disjointness will help protect them, I feel.
    • RTFA... they are talking about what will happen when clients are released that allow someone to download without uploading, getting around the TFT system. When the individual torrent swarms become saturated with leeches that use these hypothetical modified clients, what happens to the over-all BitTorrent network/protocol in the long-run?
      • Actually, if you RTFA, it states plainly that what makes BT work isn't TFT, its the Tribal mentality of the users. Basically, groups that have too many leechers will automatically die, groups that have many seeds will grow. Made perfect sense to me, and I can easily validate that theory from experience.

        Quality sites that enforce reasonable ratios and hold uploaders accountable do well. Sites that do not have ratios may do ok, but the quality of the swarms are MUCH lower, the download rate is lower, and
    • The internalization of meta-data search (those torrent files you grab from those tracker sites) within the client will hypothetically remove the community aspect built around tracker websites, thus lowering altruism levels to that of other file sharing networks.
      • by ScrewMaster ( 602015 ) on Sunday June 12, 2005 @12:28PM (#12795373)
        Yes, but the real question is what causes that lack of "altruism" in the first place. My assumption (which could be wrong) is fear of retribution by some media conglomerate. Those with transfer caps would also be candidates for leechhood too, I suppose. However, when nearly untraceable P2P technology becomes the rule, when the Fear of God(tm) and/or somebody's lawyers is no longer a significant issue, I would expect altruism levels to shoot up. Remember the original Napster: everybody pretty much shared their entire collections. It wasn't until the RIAA started slinging lawsuits around that people even thought about anonymity (I think most people assumed they were anonymous.) Well, now they are thinking about it, but so are a whole lot of developers. From the RIAA perspective, I think this is going to backfire bigtime. I mean, they had to know this was going to happen.
    • The question now is: how the release of such search engines is going to impact the BitTorrent network? Perhaps the search engines are a data mining tool. Anyone who wants to know what bittorrent is being used for rigs up a search engine and records the queries. In this speculative case, the impact on 'bittorrent' could be fatal; given that the data is presented in a certain way to the right robes.
    • There isn't a BitTorrent network

      Ah, but this search engine has taken those sporadic single purpose networks, and made them available to the masses.

      If anything, this search engine will create a BitTorrent network, or pseudo-community if you will.
  • by Bad to the Ben ( 871357 ) on Sunday June 12, 2005 @10:51AM (#12794717)
    If the number free loaders gets too great, nobody will be able to get fast downloads off of BT due to lack of seeds (or whatever they're called). Once that happens, popularity amongst freeloaders declines, service returns to normal. A file sharing system without anybody seeding any files is a waste of time.
  • by stripmarkup ( 629598 ) on Sunday June 12, 2005 @10:52AM (#12794731) Homepage
    The main strength of BitTorrent is that it works on individual files. It is not a network, rather a protocol like ftp or http. Ftp sites that offer copyrighted content can be taken down, but the ftp protocol is alive and well.
  • by Paul Crowley ( 837 ) on Sunday June 12, 2005 @10:53AM (#12794743) Homepage Journal
    The thesis is basically that by causing your client to change identity frequently, you can take advantage of the leniency that BT allows newcomers to the network, and thus "leech" without punishment. This isn't done because you'll get kicked out of the communities that publish BT metadata if you do it.

    I don't see it. If you're going to leech, that's the way to do it, but cooperating overall results in even better upload rates; you're not fighting for the few slots afforded newcomers, you will be given as many packets as you can eat as fast as you can eat them so long as you reciprocate. And I'm sure those communities will survive - I suspect that Bram will have thought of how to integrate search with community.
    • Of course that's the issue: Bram was working on a way to do searching and whatever via some sort of framework -which perhaps he was going to monitize or sell to someone else who would monitize it- but now other people have gone and given out search tools for free. Bram was on Webtalkradio recently where he said searching was going to be his focus going forward.

      Now he's been trumped, left out of the loop, and sidelined, much as he was once the sole source for BT clients until 15 other clients popped up.

  • by bsgk ( 792550 ) on Sunday June 12, 2005 @10:55AM (#12794761)
    Seeing as how the **IA and its international counterparts have been successful in shutting down the tracker sites and this will help them locate these sites, don't you think the impact will be a move to only legal files being indexed for the search. This could actually lead to a vindication of p2p as a useful piece of software and a decline in the number of sites specializing in illegal copyrighted downloads.

    It could be compared to bootlegs being move from inside the music/video/etc. store to the street merchants that have to pick up and move everytime the cop walks near them.
  • May well be right (Score:4, Insightful)

    by m50d ( 797211 ) on Sunday June 12, 2005 @10:56AM (#12794771) Homepage Journal
    I've never seen a P2P network without leechers. Even those which include an economics system like edonkey still have their share. I don't think there's anything fundamentally different about bittorrent. Now it's pretty much an ordinary P2P net leechers will appear. The economics will help limit their impact though.
    • Ummm...the difference is that bittorrent works. Leechers who are not uploading will by definition in the bittorrent protocol get NOTHING if there is no unused spare bandwidth not being taken by people who upload.

      Bram designed the protocol on the assumption that every client is out for it's own best interest. Once a leecher attaches to a network, sets his/her upload bandwidth to zero and sees no downloading why would they stay part of the torrent?
      • It must be possible to get things without giving, otherwise no one would be able to join a torrent (because they'd have nothing to upload). So there's a way to leech. And there will be people who make it work.
        • I've never been in a torrent where there was'nt at least SOME aggregate downstream bandwidth in and above what the uploading clients were taking. But, when you first join a torrent the protocol is written so that seeders that are done downloading are three times as likely to choose new torrent clients with little or no data over clients that already have some data and are uploading. I should say at this point I really don't know EXACTLY how this works. Except that it seems that there is a percentage involve
        • Yes, but getting _something_ means getting the initial chunks of a file. Unless the file is very small, the system could (and presumably would) shut you out before you got enough to be useful to you (i.e., complete files).

          I've seen uploading start within minutes of downloading. As soon as you're in the system, it will take advantage of you if it needs to. If it doesn't, then you might get something for nothing (like a new Bitorrent release, with thousands of seeds, it'll sometimes get downloaded without
          • The first part you get is not the start of the file, but you can make it that way, so it would presumably be possible to get a whole file by pretending to be new people every so often. I think leeching must be possible, though I'm not inclined to write a leeching client to prove it.
    • The concept of leeching as in traditional P2P apps and BitTorrent baffles me.

      To download you have to upload. If there is a lot of upload capacity relative to download you download less (i.e. you could get 5kbps dl vs 1kbps ul when averaged out) resulting in a low share ratio - the thats because there is heads of capacity. On the otherhand if you download a little but there is high demand (or you keep your connection open) you'll end up with a share ratio >1.

      This is ingrained to BitTorrent, it is
      • Not everyone has a share ratio of 1. It is not required and makes no mathematical sense. For everyone one who gets the entire torrent and closes it at a 0.1 ratio there is someone who has to have a ratio of 1.9. All the ratios must AVERAGE to 1.0, but they don't all have to equal 1.0.
        • EXACTLY. Yet look at the assumption of sharers and leechers. Unless on a broad connection it is hard to better someone on one. It does not make you a leecher, yet it is often percieved that those with a shar ration less than 1 are leechers, than circumstantially (they have a narrorwe conncetion), that u are behind the trend (when most shareers have the whole file and u have none), or because of pure luck.

          Demanding an individual to have a share ratio greater than 1 is an unscalable requirement.
      • You can download without uploading to a certain extent. (If nothing else, you must be able to download something before you upload anything). It's impossible to have a majority of leechers, but you can have a few good sharers and the rest leechers, which results in slower downloads for everyone, but more safety and free upload bandwidth for the leechers.
    • When running a quality BitTorrent site, the whole *point* is to have leechers => Happy Users! :-) Leechers just means the site is required to have high-bandwidth seeds running. A BitTorrent seed allows you to distribute excellent video to a much greater number of users than ftp and httpd allows using the same bandwidth, so a few pepole not uploading is really not a problem unless you are using pirate sites. Piracy is very bad for you and makes you a criminal, this is why torrents from illegal sites are s
  • Blocked already (Score:4, Informative)

    by drhlx ( 580655 ) on Sunday June 12, 2005 @10:58AM (#12794785) Homepage Journal
    A quick search of torrentspy [torrentspy.com] ("os x tiger") [torrentspy.com]:
    There has been an error with your search This search query has been blocked at the request of the copyright holder, in compliance with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act ("DMCA")
    I was betting mates this would happen... shame I didn't put a $ figure on it ;-)
    • Re:Blocked already (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Though doing a search for just "tiger" isn't blocked and returns equivalent results.

      That just shows that the effectiveness of blocking search parameters to limit search results is minimal, unless you take the baby out with the bath water.
    • Re:Blocked already (Score:3, Informative)

      by paul.dunne ( 5922 )
      They've blocked the *search*, as they have that for Star Wars III.
      So, do an advanced search for "tiger" in the applications category,
      and guess what? The torrent files are still there, and still downloadable.
    • A quick search for torrentspy [torrentspy.com] ("os x" [torrentspy.com]):

      showed the expected results
    • You just don't know howto use TorrentSpy. Lots of searches have been blocked like "GTA" aswell, but if you use the Directory Search, you can find it.

      Directory->Macintosh->Applications [torrentspy.com] which shows this OSX 10.4 [torrentspy.com]

      The funny thing is, "os x tiger" is blocked, but "os x" or "tiger" still works. Not very effective.
    • Re:Blocked already (Score:2, Insightful)

      by vitalyb ( 752663 )
      Personally I find it REALLY disturbing that we reached so quickly a censorship to SEARCH STRINGS. How will it end? :(
  • by colonslashslash ( 762464 ) on Sunday June 12, 2005 @11:09AM (#12794865) Homepage
    <MPAA_Exec> Does a bear shit in the forest?!?!

  • It's Going to Help (Score:2, Interesting)

    by ilyanep ( 823855 )
    Search = More leechers = More seeders = More health. That means less dead torrents. It's that simple.
  • Conflicting Answer (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Lord Bitman ( 95493 ) on Sunday June 12, 2005 @11:38AM (#12795052) Homepage
    Bittorrent Search could be slower than normal bittorrent usage, if these techniques are used (though I personally find that my download speeds are abysmally slow until I have enough segments to upload too, this "new user window" the report talks about could be a figment of the author's imagination)
    But this will not effect Bittorrent Itself. Bittorrent remains useful for legitimate downloads- of the type that people will be downloading the .torrents for from a website that's trying to provide files for people.
    Bittorrent may not become more useful because of searching, but it wont become less useful.
  • I'm surprised that companies haven't taken advantage of this and similar ideas. They are wasting millions of dollars trying to shut down trackers and p2p sites instead of turning them into a source of profit.

    Would it not be a better idea to sign a new set of commercial contracts with various comanies for the rights to the commercial break(s) in an encoded version of the show specifically made to be freely distrubted, probably with a form of DRM or copy protection to deter the ease of making versions withou

    • As long as they make it at a reasonable price. I don't want to be paying $40 a month for four or five shows that I download. I would think that they would offer 'packages' of some sort. Or maybe like the system slashdot uses. You pay $40 and you have so many downloads.
      • Well, that's the thing, the best bet would be to offer it free to download. I would be the same quality as what you would see of your tv, so a standard 320x240 resolution, add in the premium commercials, slap on the copy protection, add then ship it off to the tracker(s). The revenue comes from the companies who purchase the advert spots.
    • Not likely to happen in the short term.

      Firstly it's too easy. When anyone can make and broadcast programmes through torrent downloads what is the use of the existing broadcast monopolies? Controlling access to the market place is just as important to the broadcasters as it is to the record and film industries.

      Secondly what would be the profits from videos? No one would by the DVDs of TV series when they already have the download. OK, some might, but it would be quite a dent in the extra revenue.
  • As you may know, eXeem was a proprietary protocol "extending" (well, at least it was slightly different) BitTorrent to be trackerless with a built-in search engine in the client for ultimate ease of searching and ease of sharing.

    Everything should then be great on the paper (besides being a proprietary protocol + client that was adware), but what I saw was immediate signs of Kazaaification with tons of people spread out over lots and lots of versions of the same files. And you got absolutely horrible speed
    • I think the BT community could see some negative effects from this, as people start trying to download (and hence upload) the same file from unrelated trackers, instead of giving one or few trackers a very large number of seeders and leechers, i.e. when the BT protocol truly shines.

      People were doing this anyway. Before there was a search, people had to go to the trackers themselves to find torrents. Granted, some trackers grew to be very large, but then net effect was having as many versions of a file as

  • Do you know what will be awesome... is when anyone with a half-decent upload speed (~1 mbit) can start up their own high-quality video stream, or tv station, so that independent media can be distributed through p2p networks like bit torrent - but just by clicking tune in on your favorite channel! This sort of system will significantly reduce the amount of bandwith that a streaming host server has to push through the first few pipes. Then, users utilize each other's bandwith. "Leechers" will be an antiqua
  • The .ISO image of Mac OS X 10.4.1 for the Intel platform.

    Everything else is OK.
  • by adrenaline_junky ( 243428 ) on Sunday June 12, 2005 @02:37PM (#12796197)
    The thesis of the research appears to be that, (1) if they can get away with it, some programmers will write implementations of the bittorrent protocal that are designed to "cheat" in such a way that they can have a higher ratio of downloading to uploading than they can currently get away with, and (2) it is the multiple swarms created by a lack of a central search engine that stops this.

    The research is very unsatisfying to me for several reasons. First, its not even necessary to "cheat". On every bittorrent I've ever downloaded, my download has completed *way* before my ratio has reached 1:1, and it is only because I choose not to end the session that I continue seeding (or, more often than not, because I'm asleep, so the choice to continue seeding is made for me).

    Second, the example they give of a strategy that beats tit-for-tat is one in which several cooperating strategies are used at the same time, with some taking on a "master" roll and some taking on a "slave" roll. This may make their point on some academic level, but as a realistic example is fails utterly. Who in their right mind would start ten different bittorrent sessions, with some acting as slaves and some acting as masters? The overall download speed would be awful from having multiple sessiosn running over the same wire. Its just stupid. At least come up with a better example of a strategy that can best tit-for-tat.

    Third, I don't see evidence that people would use a bittorrent program that was designed to cheat. Maybe they would, maybe they wouldn't... the article assumes people would. My bet is that not enough people would use such a program that it would make a difference. Its not like this is evolution, where the successful cheaters "pass on their genes" to create more cheaters.

    Overall, I think the research is a lot of academic mumbo-jumbo that may sound good on paper, but has very little, if any, connection to reality.

    My own simpler thesis would be this: bittorrent works so well because a lot of the downloaders fall asleep and end up seeding longer than they otherwise might.
  • 1) P2p of copyrighted materials is about cheating the system to get free material you would other wise have to pay for. 2) So why should they suddenly be moral and not cheat the P2p system if they can find a way to?
  • The thesis is that hacked nonreciprocating bittorrent clients are discouraged due to group selection among swarms, because of people manually abandoning poorly performing swarms poisoned with too many nonreciprocating clients. I don't buy it. First, they don't provide evidence that parasitic clients exist "in the wild" in substantial numbers sufficient to be significantly contribute to differences in download speed among swarms. Second, nonreciprocating clients could shift swarms as well. Third, they don't
  • Can't, and why aren't, major companies setting up arrays of computers to leach on new and popular downloads. It seems if they totally screwed the bandwith few new users would stick around. Also, couldn't they seed huge BS files whose filanames identify them as something popular? This would steal bandwith from the involved computers.
  • I made a BT search engine before /. post news about it (see sig), and mine is not the only one. And just as others have said, there is no BitTorrent network, only swarms. Tit for tat works because that's what it is: the faster you upload (give) and faster you download (get).

    Again, an uninformed news fluff.
  • I'm getting so tired of all these "is X harmful?" the answer always is "yes if" or "no, but" come on, anything CAN be harmful, but its the probability, not the possibility that matters!

Today is the first day of the rest of your lossage.