Saturday, January 29, 2011


Peer-to-peer means many things

I have a bone to pick with New Scientist’s headline writer. For an article about Google’s blocking of certain search terms in their instant results, the headline reads thus:

Google censors peer-to-peer search terms

In fact, the article tells us that the terms in question relate to torrent downloads. The article doesn’t mention peer-to-peer at all; it’s only in the headline. And the headline gives the wrong impression.

Peer-to-peer is not synonymous with file sharing of questionable legality. In fact, it’s not synonymous with file sharing of any kind: file sharing is one application of peer-to-peer protocols, but there’s a lot of other stuff on the Internet that works peer-to-peer.

Some examples:

  • Instant messaging
  • Networked games
  • Many voice-over-IP systems
  • Any other SIP-based application

Many of these services put two end-user systems in touch with each other, and then use peer-to-peer protocols, keeping any central servers out of the picture — and out of interference, eliminating any bottlenecks that a server might cause.

The fact that many people violate copyright by using peer-to-peer file sharing to pass around copyrighted material sometimes gives peer-to-peer a bad name. But a lot of useful stuff that’s legally solid and non-controversial is peer-to-peer as well. Let’s not tar all of those with the same brush.

1 comment:

Jim Fenton said...

Not to mention the fact that all routing protocols are peer-to-peer. The misuse of the term in many contexts is harmless enough, but when it comes to legislation regulating peer-to-peer services, there is the real possibility that they could make routing protocols illegal!