The recent news about the crackdown on Silk Road 2.0 are a reminder that, as long as Web services depend on central servers, they can be shut down by Big Government and Big Capital anytime. It’s evident that we need decentralized, distributed services without central single point failures. Popcorn Time, the BitTorrent video streaming service, has taken a small step along the distributed way.
Popcorn Time is an open source BitTorrent client that includes a media player. The program is intended as a free alternative to subscription-based video streaming services such as Netflix. Strictly speaking, Popcorn Time is not streaming (BitTorrent streaming is still a research area), but sequential downloading offers a streaming-like experience that is good enough in practice.
Following inception, Popcorn Time quickly received unexpectedly positive media attention, with some comparing it to Netflix due to its ease of use. The program was abruptly taken down by its original developers on March 14, 2014, but was subsequently forked and taken over by other developers.
Last month one of the most popular Popcorn Time forks ran into trouble. Out of the blue Time4popcorn.eu had its domain name suspended by the EURid registry. The developers were informed that the suspension was the result of an ongoing legal investigation into the BitTorrent streaming app, presumably after copyright holders complained.
Aside from losing its domain name and losing nearly all traffic, the domain troubles also affected existing users. BitTorrent transfers don’t depend on central servers, but the Popcorn Time fork required the central server to load the user interface, so that the application stopped working.
With today’s release of Beta 5 , the user interface is loaded from redundant servers in parallel, which is a step toward the final goal – distributing all data via P2P transfers. In the future, all the necessary data for Popcorn Time will be transferred purely via P2P and the new Beta 5 implements the infrastructure needed for this vision.
The project’s frontpage proudly states: “This PopcornTime service will never be taken down. Download and enjoy.” The project team told Torrent Freak :
“EURid tried to take us down and instead of doing so, they just opened our eyes and made us better and wiser. Thank you EURid for making Popcorn Time unstoppable.”
This is not yet the distributed Internet, but it certainly is a small step along the way, and the defiant optimism of the project team is refreshing. There are several promising initiatives to build a new Internet without central servers that can be attacked by Big Government and Big Capital.
Online drug markets like Silk Road will continue to be vulnerable for as long as they remain dependent on central servers, but soon they will migrate to new decentralized online marketplace platforms like OpenBazaar.
What do you think of the trend toward a fully distributed Internet? Comment below!
Images from Popcorn Time and Shutterstock.