File sharing used to feel downright revolutionary. Whether you were doing it on the fair side of usage or the questionable, dark side of “sharing,” the giving and taking of files (call it “collaboration” if you want to be high-minded about it) often felt wrong—even when you were doing it right.
Not so in the so-called Web 2.0 world. In this future version of the Internet, which is apparently being constructed around us as we sleep, file sharing is just another aspect of getting things done.
In case you’re not familiar with it, Web 2.0 is the land of blogging and RSS and commenting on Flickr photos and letting everyone else know how awesome your favorite taqueria is. In Web 2.0 land, we’re all a hive of busy bees, and we desperately need to share our stuff—especially our opinions. Quickly and easily, please. We’re socially networking over here. We need the tubes to transmit our stuff.
Fear not, social networker. Free and E-Z file sharing is coming to a browser or stand-alone application near you. As part of this Web 2.0 revolution (brought to you by someone at some point, probably), you’re going to be able to easily trade your favorite things: privately, securely, and in a direct, peer-to-peer manner. But, until the revolution has been realized, televised, and advertised, you’re going to have to do it in beta.
The other day, I met with Cedric Maloux, CEO of a company called AllPeers. Maloux’s company has created an interesting plug-in for Firefox that inhabits your browser’s interface and allows you to share, via BitTorrent, files with friends. There are no size limits to the files you can share. You can drag and drop files into your browser window from your desktop. You can even cherry-pick content from the Web (logos, text, links, et. al.) and forward it along to your friends. Have your buddies set up an account, which essentially consists of downloading the plug-in and entering a few contacts, and—provided you’re both online at the same time—you’re on the road to sharing your best friend’s cousin’s Bat Mitzvah videos. Mazel tov !
AllPeers is not perfect, of course, and it still needs a lot of work in the devilish details. But, it’s a novel idea. Your IM app can probably do something similar when it comes to direct file sharing, but this is a good step toward extending Firefox into ambitious, new arenas. It’s worth trying out, beta bugs and all. However, it’s only available for Firefox, and there’s no sure-fire way to figure out if your buddy has received all those files you’re trying to send. That’s obviously not a problem with your IM client.
Don’t want to go the browser route for file sharing? Don’t use Firefox? There is another option: the stand-alone application. Try Pando. This program, also free and also in beta, allows you to share files, but it uses e-mail as a conduit to let you and your buddies know when you’ve got new files to download. I spoke with Robert Levitan, CEO of Pando, and he’s convinced that e-mail is a great peg to hang the idea of file sharing on. After all, at some point, nearly everyone has experienced the conundrum of how to transmit an extremely large file that can’t be shoved through the e-mail pipeline. Pando is one way to do it, and the application is very easy to use.
Through e-mail, Pando solves the synchronous problem you might have with AllPeers: You don’t need to be online at the same time as your buddies to share files. This is because the Pando model isn’t strictly peer-to-peer. The files you wish to share get uploaded to Pando’s server, and your buddy has to retrieve them within a fortnight (that’s 14 days to you folks in the 21st century) before they are let loose into the Internet trash bin.
How do these people plan on making money, I hear you asking. AllPeers pledges to not include any advertising. Rather, the company says it is building a network for possible file distribution. It will focus on ultimately making its plug-in browser-agnostic and build in more encryption and security. One way AllPeers might make money: If your polka band wants to stick to the big-shot record companies and sell your CD directly to the fans, you might be able to do it through an AllPeers network—once the company has built it up. That model of revenue generation is admittedly still down the road.
Pando, however, plans on taking the advertising route, at least in part. Its stand-alone application has some extra real estate in its interface, and this space will likely be taken up by banner ads at some point in the future.
Both of these companies have grabbed outside investors, so they have a little breathing room to work as they fashion some kind of business model around what is at once very simple but also extremely complicated—trafficking data between you and me.
If you’re interested in this promising arena, you’re probably going to have to convince your friends to adopt the same tools that you’re using, and that may be the biggest hurdle of all. Once we pick a tool, we seem to stick with it. Many of us only grudgingly switch to another, better one.
Are these file-sharing helpers the biggest thing since unsliced artisan bread? Perhaps, but don’t be surprised if they stay in beta for awhile. There are quite a few online-based services that have been in beta for, well, seemingly forever. They only seem to get out of beta when they’re ready to start selling something.
The Web 2.0 cheerleaders like to say that new social networking tools and services like AllPeers and Pando necessarily get better the more people use them. So, purportedly, does public transportation. Will I see you on the bus tomorrow?