P2P We Hardly Knew Ye
Tuesday, October 10, 2000 by Dave Winer.
A few weeks ago I wrote What is P2P?, a light-hearted fun-poke at the latest euphoria to sweep Silicon Valley. As far as I was concerned, the jury was still out on whether or not there is any such thing as P2P. Now the jury is in, for me, I'm ready to apologize for drinking the Kool-Aid, never should have done it, I should have stayed with my gut.
"I'm sorry I drank the Kool-Aid," say I.
Ask P2P what it is, you get a hedge. "I'm not sure," it says. That's the truth, but you don't hear a lot of that in the hype. Eyes glaze over, arms wave, people talk excitedly about services that work better without P2P. You can fill a hall with that kind of talk. I've seen it done many times.
Until I see a killer app for P2P, I'm from Missouri. I honestly don't expect to see one.
But Napster, that's a different story. There is something magical and real and wonderful about Napster. But what is it that's so great? Is it P2P? No, of course not. It's the music. I've said that before, but it bears repeating. It's the music. Repeat that 80,000 times.
The P2P part of Napster was necessary to provide a legal argument that Napster is just a community, and not what the RIAA says it is. Now Napster has stayed where it is, no new features, no open interfaces, nothing for a developer to latch onto. To keep my enthusiasm, I need more community, and for that, as a developer, I need hooks. However, until the legal cloud is gone, it's not likely to happen.
So music on the Internet is a mess. It's being stomped to death in the courts. This summer it was wonderful to be able to get any music I wanted whenever I wanted it. But the euphoria is dying. It needed to be fed with musical and technological creativity, and that's not happening.
P2P is not the next big thing, any more than Java, Go, Hypercard, General Magic, or OpenDoc were. Or artificial intelligence, intelligent agents, push technology or open source. Napster needed to be P2P to route around the music monopoly. That was a good idea. And putting a Web server on the desktop has always been a good idea. And we're still not, as an industry, dealing with the big issue of giving the users control over their work.
Putting a Web server on the users' desktop is a good idea because it allows access to your information from your desktop when you're traveling. A Web server on the desktop also makes it easy to configure software using a Web browser, something people have grown comfortable with. And your friends and colleagues can log in to answer questions, surveys, or to check a calendar or schedule. A small workgroup could share a desktop system, even while it's being used interactively.
(However the concerns of firewalls, NAT systems, not-persistent net connections and security continue to be there, even after Napster. And all this functionality can be implemented on a central server, or "cloud," but if the information is private, you might want to keep it on your desktop computer.)
Further, the ability to get data out of the cloud and put it on a local hard disk is a good idea, because sometimes clouds, e.g. Yahoo, lose data. It would be great if local software could do something meaningful with this data. Note that we're totally at the starting gate on this, as far as I know, only my company offers the ability to grab the data from the cloud and put it on the desktop. And we're just beginning to figure out how to use the data. (This appears to be fertile ground.)
Someday there will be new explosive-growth technology, like PCs, graphic user interfaces and the Web. When it happens we'll know it. Unfortunately wanting it isn't enough to make it happen. The time has to be right. And there has to be real new value, something inefficient that's routed around, and nothing that can be done to stop the wheels of progress.
The route-around of Napster is in court. If the judgment favors the Internet, music could be the next explosive technology. But if Napster has to sell its soul to the music industry, forget it, there won't be a technology revolution around that. Too much fear and control.
In the meantime, the Web is still waiting for easy writing tools, and to make better use of the desktop. If you want to call this P2P, that's OK with me, but it's still about features for users. It's simpler to chuck the hype, stick with the features, and listen to users.
PS: "I'm from Missouri," means I'm skeptical. Missouri is known as The Show Me State. It's a state full of skeptical people, and they're proud of it!
PPS: The Mets, my team, beat the Giants, now they'll play the Cardinals for the National League Championship. The Cardinals are from Missouri. So it's up to the Mets to Show Them. And that we will do, of course. Let's Go Mets!
PPPS: I've been emailing with Denise Caruso, a longtime friend and formerly of the NY Times, about defining integrity for Web writing. I'd like to start a project to work on this with other interested public writers. This is a long overdue project, with big potential payoff.