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The Trouble With Tribler: Unstoppable BitTorrent Client Available Via Harvard

TriblerIt's difficult to sort out signal from noise in the uproar surrounding filesharing technologies. Even as a number of BitTorrent-related sites have begun to shut down voluntarily, a 5 year old academic project called Tribler may be about to take the lead in the battle over what can be shared via the Internet.

Described as "impossible to shut down," Tribler began at the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands and has also been developed at Harvard in Internet tv studies. Though quite legitimate uses are under exploration, a recent wave of publicity stemming from the MegaUpload shutdown has forced Tribler to shift its official site to download only status as filesharing enters an even more resilient phase of operation.

I don't follow the details of filesharing controversies. Too many lies, too much propaganda and way too many technical and legal fine points for my taste. Nevertheless, I knew enough to be impressed when I heard that The Pirate Bay was giving up torrent hosting and that its inventory of magnet links could fit on a USB stick.  The game was changing.

What I didn't expect was the uptake of Tribler, a filesharing client under development since 2007 by academics studying the improvement of video distribution and Internet tv:

"Developed by a team of researchers at Delft University of Technology, the main goal is to come up with a robust implementation of BitTorrent that doesn’t rely on central servers. Instead, Tribler is designed to keep BitTorrent alive, even when all torrent search engines, indexes and trackers are pulled offline."

"'Our key scientific quest is facilitating unbounded information sharing,' Tribler leader Dr. Pouwelse tells TorrentFreak...'The only way to take it down is to take The Internet down.'"

Tribler's current popular can be ascertained by the shift of the official Tribler site to download only status due to recent demand. Here's how it works.

"Like many other BitTorrent clients, Tribler has a search box at the top of the application. However, the search results that appear when users type in a keyword don’t come from a central index. Instead, they come directly from other peers."

"Downloading a torrent is also totally decentralized. When a user clicks on one of the search results, the meta-data is pulled in from another peer and the download starts immediately. Tribler is based on the standard BitTorrent protocol and uses regular BitTorrent trackers to communicate with other peers. But, it can also continue downloading when a central tracker goes down."

Related efforts include the introduction of Open2Edit, a "Wikipedia-style editing system," P2P Next and the Swarmplayer as well as Harvard Internet TV.

So the takedown of MegaUpload and the subsequent shutdown of related sites, which appeared to be a major victory for anti-piracy forces, also led to popular interest in a filesharing client that is set to change the landscape of the battle.  As Clausewitz revealed, war as a nonlinear phenomenon is inherently unpredictable.

More from Harvard on the Tribler project: FAQ ~ Research

Hypebot Features Writer Clyde Smith maintains his freelance writing hub at Flux Research and music industry resources at Music Biz Blogs. To suggest topics for Hypebot, contact: clyde(at)fluxresearch(dot)com.