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Next Step for P2P? Open Services
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The Internet ignition switch

A good industrial-age example of this is automobiles. Early cars were very tricky to operate and only experienced operators knew how to maneuver the levers and manipulate the valves just so to make the machine a useful conveyance rather than just a land-bound high-explosive. But eventually, after generations of cars made for "experts," a manufacturer came along and produced a user-friendly machine. Turn the key in the ignition the car magically starts. I would argue that Napster, Gnutella, SETI@Home, etc., are the Internet-age equivalent of the ignition switch: they hide all the ugliness of Internet services somewhere in the magic between the first and second mouse-clicks.

Firewall and NAT traversal

The next thing for Open Services is the revealing of even more resources on our computers for partially open access or other sharing, such as seemingly mundane things like our address books and telephone directories. What seems to be getting popular now is shared Web indexing and content aggregation. And of course more and better applications to more effectively share the things we're sharing already. Clay Shirky likes to call this the "Internet equivalent of walking across the hall".

Facilitating the "walk across the hall" is a key service that Open Services can provide. Consider the problem of two computers (A and B) behind different firewalls. The firewalls prevent them from communicating with each other, which means that A can't send B her family photo album over instant messaging. An obvious way around that is to have an intermediary without restrictive firewalls serving as a bit freight clearinghouse so we can get our work done. Before you say that we could just punch a hole in our firewalls to support this file transfer, consider that we're average users and corporate IT doesn't want to play.

The only way around this in the short term is a proxy (yes, standards bodies are working on ways to make NATs and firewalls dynamically negotiate this between themselves, but standards take time to develop and deploy). So, then, we can solve the above problem by picking one of the open proxies operated by people with underutilized network resources. (I wish this existed just last night, when I needed to get a file from a friend. He had to go through the pain of uploading the file to his co-located Web server for me to have access to it. Darned that he wasn't just running an open proxy on his colocated server.)

Related Articles:

Convergence of Web & Peer Services

O'Reilly Network's Web Services DevCenter

JXTA Search: A look at the future of searching

Cooperative web sharing

Another big idea that seems to be getting a lot of attention just now is cooperative Web searching. Grub.org, Jibe and OpenCola Folders are just a few examples. With Grub.org, every participant will run an indexer that updates (what I guess to be) a central index which may be later incorporated into your favorite Web search engine.

It's like SETI@Home, except that it is geared toward the search for terrestrial intelligence. Jibe aims to allow suppliers to open their product databases to online marketplaces. OpenCola Folders crawl the Web for content you are interested in. What's interesting is that my OpenCola Folder can find your OpenCola Folder, allowing us to share the results of our computers' intense labors. These are just a few examples of what can happen when we make the server manageable by the technological proletariat.

Just imagine if you could easily set aside part of your computer to allow friends to store their files. Who needs to pay XDrive when your best friend has a new 60-gig hard disk and an SDSL? In fact I just piled together a little PHP script that does just this so that I can use Mutt (after a long battle with Windows readers) and still work with attachments easily. That's close, but I still had to write code, and it runs on a FreeBSD machine. I needed to know vi and grep. If I could provide that same Web-based hard drive service by just double-clicking on something named Setup.exe, then the business of low-end Internet storage provision will have become a free, yet valuable, consumer Open Service operated by consumers.

Here's an idea that I imagine we'll start to get familiar with in the near future:

Your set-top box will run an Open Service whether or not you know it. It will cooperate with other set-top boxes in your locality to provide video-on-demand services for your neighbors. Obviously, this reduces the buildout necessary to enable video-on-demand. So, Open Services can work for Big Media too.

Open Services are growing in popularity because they make sense for so many different types of applications. Plug in an 802.11b hub, share that recipe for fried spam, and leave your computer alone so it can help us find our intergalactic friends.

My favorite part of all this is that none of it happened at Stanford.

Gene Kan was a lead developer of the Gnutella project. He founded InfraSearch and now runs the JXTASearch group at Sun's Project JXTA.

P2P Weblogs

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