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Public Lab Research note

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Why is 'peer-to-peer' file sharing useful? Should I put effort into learning how to do it?

by donblair |

Much of the important work done by members of the Public Lab community involves sharing images and other data: a kite mapping session generates lots of images to be shared with those who are interested in the results; we use sensors to collect data that we'd like to distribute to those who are interested in helping us to analyze and interpret it; we record and share narrative accounts of the environmental concerns we have.

Today, you can choose among various ways of sharing digital files:

  1. USB stick / flash drive
  2. email attachments
  3. uploading a file to a server, and then sharing the link to that file (e.g., Dropbox)
  4. peer-to-peer filesharing networks (e.g., BitTorrent)
  5. encoding the file in light pulses emitted by bioluminescent algae appropriately perturbed [1]
  6. telepathy [2]

Most of us are familiar with #'s 1, 2, and 3 ... and most of us are probably happy with those options. Why would we chose #4 -- peer-to-peer networks?

I didn't really know, until I started to dig into it today. I'm still new to the topic, but I found some nice explanations for why peer-to-peer file sharing represents a really important advance in digital filesharing, especially for the sort of work that is done at Public Lab:



From what I can discern, the main advantages are:

  • enhanced security and privacy
  • limited dependence on external services that might go away / start charging a fee
  • the file size is limited only by the capacity of your local storage

And when I have time, I'll try to distill those reasons out into a wiki or an edit to this research note. Meanwhile, I'd love it if anyone with opinions / info on peer-to-peer networking could add comments to this note.

Cheers! Don

[1] possible-but-hard. Aside: did you know you can grow your own, at home?

[2] possible-but-not-here.




Local sync is a big advantage-- if I'm on the same local network with a group, bittorrent sync just goes local. Dropbox, however, kills the internet connection for everyone sending data up and down.

the rest of this comment sent via telepathy... but you already knew that.

There was a really good book that I once had a skim read through - where the author said that, what the evolution of our universe, and all the important events in human history, comes down to is the evolution of information systems...so when you talk about peer to peer...I like to think of those good old days where scruffy academics, dressed in their raincoats, would amble down alleysways and exchange between them scrappy notes. :)

I'm got bitsync set up, and now so does @nicholas! slowly coming along.

Awesome explained, and this is very helpful! I use cloud storage usually for everything, and for sharing as well, and I always found this: http://www.winzip.com/win/en/features/file-sharing.html to be the easiest way, but I had no idea "peer to peer" existed, and what it is. Thanks a lot for sharing this! :)

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