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Wed, Jan. 31st, 2007, 04:53 pm
Mark Cuban says BitTorrent is doomed, DOOMED!

Mark Cuban is complaining about BitTorrent.

I'm not sure what his point is. Despite BitTorrent having 135 million installs and being 55% of all internet traffic, P2P in general 'is a product that tests great. In application however, it has a ton of challenges'. Maybe he's talking trash because he invested $1.7 million in a 'BitTorrent-like' company. He's been transparent about such motivations before. That said, he does has some claim to punditry in the bandwidth space because his $5 billion sale of broadcast.com for yahoo stock set the precedent for valuing bandwidth supply companies based on how quickly they flush money down the toilet. (Amusingly, if you go to broadcast.com today it simply redirects to yahoo.com.)

Given that I don't know what the point of Cuban's post is, instead of rebutting it I'll play Devil's advocate and argue his side. But first I'll argue against some other things.



Digital Computers
  1. Digital computers are extremely complicated devices, requiring a large number of gates to do even the most elementary operations, while analog computers can do amazing things with only a few simple pieces of circuitry
  2. Millions or billions of calculations are required by digital computers to do even very modest simulations. For example, that stupid space alien searching screen saver could have long since finished using a analog circuitry at far less cost, and digital radios require a high-end processor to replicate what a basic radio can do.
  3. Even a single error in billions of operations will frequently render the entire output of a digital computer garbage.
  4. To program even rudimentary tasks on a digital computer requires tricky programming on the part of highly skilled specialists.

Clearly, digital computers test great. In application however, they have a ton of challenges.


Packet switching
  1. Packet switching is based on some handwavy observations rather than a rigorous model and practical implementations contain a ton of voodoo magic numbers.
  2. Packet switched networks make no guarantees of service for particular connections whatsoever, and applications have to deal with the possibility of not getting necessary bandwidth.
  3. Even simplistic models of packet switched networks are extremely difficult to analyze, and the results of those analyses have dubious application to the real world.
  4. The end nodes of packet networks have to have extremely complicated code to handle packet loss, a phenomenon which they outright rely on to function properly, and all end nodes need to have reasonably harmonious behavior for the whole network to work.
  5. Packet based networks hardly provide any useful information to end nodes at all. The potential capacity of each connection and whether it's at the limit must be guessed at using very cumbersome techniques and unreliable information.

Clearly, the internet tests great. In application however, it has a ton of challenges.


BitTorrent
  1. BitTorrent trackers have ludicrously little responsibility, having no control over peers whatsoever. This architecture trivially reduces central overhead to almost nothing, but creates a ton of problems in exchange for going to the extreme on that one criterion.
  2. There are no guarantees of service from downloading from BitTorrent peers whatsoever, and it relies on an extremely baroque and poorly studies variant on tit for tat to have any enforcement of behavior at all.
  3. Even an elementary implementation of a BitTorrent peer is very complicated and tricky to write, with no clear benchmarks and lots of hazy requirements.

Clearly, BitTorrent tests great. In application however, it has a ton of challenges.


Humor aside, Cuban was confused by some basic arithmetic at the end of his post, and having a mathematical bent I'd like to help. If BitTorrent traffic is currently 55% of all internet traffic, and it doubles, would it then be 100%? No it wouldn't. Let's say that BitTorrent traffic is currently 55 zillobits, and everything else is 45 zillobits, for a total of 100 zillobits. BitTorrent would then be 55/100 = 55% of total traffic. If BitTorrent traffic were then to double, it would then be 110 zillobits, out of a total of 110 + 45 = 155 zillobits of traffic, and as a percentage would be 110/155 = 71% of all internet traffic.
(Deleted comment)

Thu, Feb. 1st, 2007 08:46 pm (UTC)
cubansucks: what?

how can he say that when vidlord.com is doing so well off downloaded bittorrent files?

Thu, Feb. 1st, 2007 02:28 am (UTC)
jered

The pundits are assailing your technology... now you know you've made it!

I particularly like the part where he claims that open, documented protocols are a bad thing for the Internet.

Can I be Mark Cuban when I grow up?

Thu, Feb. 1st, 2007 04:13 am (UTC)
maelorin

perhaps. if you're happy to have the surgery.

Thu, Feb. 1st, 2007 03:49 am (UTC)
spider88

Jesus... even I understand that level of math....

Thu, Feb. 1st, 2007 04:12 am (UTC)
maelorin: pretty much what i posted on his blog

not understanding something is not an impediment to people using it. how many people who use telephones actually understand telephony networks? or the windows os for that matter.

as for the proliferation of clients, most people gravitate towards a particular client - the ones their friends use/recommend, or the one that they find usable.

usefulness is the final arbiter for technology. if people find something useful, they use it. otherwise they don't. (not that this prevents people doing phds or selling marketing surveys that demonstrate this :)

usability affects which version of a tech people use, along with cost and so forth. but it doesn't stop them. vcrs sold quite well in spite of being considered the epitome of difficult-to-use tech.

microsoft would not exist if 'a ton of difficulties' was a killer.

Thu, Feb. 1st, 2007 05:38 am (UTC)
mackys: Death of the 'net predicted...

...film at 11.

;]
(Deleted comment)

Thu, Feb. 1st, 2007 04:31 pm (UTC)
meepus

Can't you predict that response?

They're a bad idea because they're a detriment to any torrent they hop on, and most trackers will probably ban them.

Thu, Feb. 1st, 2007 05:39 pm (UTC)
gavinengel: Nostrodamus!

This reminds me of Mr. Cuban laughing at Google for purchasing YouTube, writing that YouTube will be a money sink to all the lawyers suing for IP infringement. What he doesn't realize is that these IP issues will be worked out in the future, not very painfully to Google as this issue is still evolving in our legal system. Afterwards Google will retain the crown jewel of user video, and it's devoted user base, for relatively little money.

Thu, Feb. 1st, 2007 07:26 pm (UTC)
mcuban: Get a clue

First, I didnt say BT was doomed. I said it has challenges. But lets address your challenges Bram. First, its obvious in many ways, that your math is influenced by your lack of business experience.

Internet capacity is not infinite in the last mile. Whats more, since flavors of Ethernet is the primary protocol used in the last mile, you get diminishing returns as bandwidth usage increases. So if the number of BT client users on the network segment providing bandwidth to your home or office grows, so that there is a doubling of bandwidth from 55pct, that segment doesnt miraculously expand to absorb the growth. It all slows down. Alot

Unfortunately for you,ISPs crack down on heavy bandwidth users, particularly uploaders and enforce their TOS.

By definition, seeders create upstream bandwidth. The ISPs dont want to see more upstream usage Bram, i know its a tough concept for you, but in the mind of the ISP, upstream use = bad. MOre upstream b/w use = more bad. Which in turn pushes them not to increase the bandwidth available to end users, but to evaluate where the upstream use is coming from and look at shutting it off and throttling it. Call me crazy, but that equates to a challenge for the BT universe.


I like your complexity analogies. You are right. BT has huge challenges. It works great for stealing content. Getting people to contribute bandwidth in order to get content for free. To quote Borat "Thats Nice".
But as you know yourself, you havent been able to make a real business out of content being bought and sold using BT. Could it be that there are users, the ones willing to pay for content, have challenges using the clients out there now ?

What did you pitch me with ...70mm clients ? Yet when I asked you to commit that those 70mm people would be willing to buy just a few thousand units, you backed down. Walmart, Blockbuster, MOvie Gallery, Best Buy, etc, etc, same content , bigger committment. No problem. But you have more "clients". They can sell content. You cant. Or maybe it was couldnt Bram.

How is the content business these days Bram ?

A quick trip to your site and I dont see anyone buying anything. Actually, its hare to find a way to buy anything from the site. Is that the plan ?

This is what the press release said
"BitTorrent customers will be able to select from a variety of popular film titles from 20th Century Fox, Kadokawa, Lionsgate, Palm, Paramount and Starz Media such as "X-Men The Last Stand," "Ringu," "Saw III," "13 Tzameti," "Mission: Impossible III," and "Ghost in the Shell." TV programming will include hits like "Attack of the Show" from G4; "24" and "Prison Break" from 20th Century Fox; "City of Men" from Palm; "Laguna Beach" and "Celebrity Deathmatch" from MTV: Music Television; Emmy and Peabody-Award winning "South Park" and "Chappelle's Show" from COMEDY CENTRAL; "Hogan Knows Best" from VH1; "SpongeBob SquarePants" and "Avatar: The Last Airbender" from Nickelodeon; and "Skyland" from Nicktoons Network."

but where are they ? Not just the customers Bram. The content ?

I searched for Prison Break. Lots of torrents. None of them Legal.
Is this what Fox had in mind when they signed up with you ?
http://www.torrentportal.com/torrents-details.php?id=674883

They wanted people to find bootleg copies of their content ?

Im a big shareholder in LionsGate. Is this what they had in mind when they signed with you ? Im sure if I call the CEO, they would say it wasnt
http://torrentreactor.net/view.php?id=626485

I couldnt find a legit copy of SawIII. Trailer Yes. Full Movie. Not so much.


Bram. Thank you for the post. You make my point exactly. BT is a great technology and you get credit for that. Turning it into a real business.. Well its not doomed, but it has more than its share of challenges.

You may choose to dismiss them, but until you recognize them, you will continue to have to get those 20mm dollar checks to keep your hopes alive.

And btw, I did invest in RS. But it wasnt close to 1.7mm dollars

Thu, Feb. 1st, 2007 08:39 pm (UTC)
jo3: Re: Get a clue

i believe bram is referring to http://www.bittorrent.com/ ... not any of the third party sites you had mentioned.

it's merely a tool -

is a gun automatically a murder weapon?
or a cd-burner copyright infringement?


of course not - it's all up the to the end user. brams attempting to create a legal avenue for bit torrent to succeed {on a commercial level, it's already a success}, and i applaud his effort. that and he's a freakin' genius.
(Deleted comment)

Thu, Feb. 1st, 2007 08:37 pm (UTC)
drmacro: I Kind of Agree with Mark

I think Mark Cuban has a point: in the context of a commercial service, rather than a more informal system for sharing stuff that you have (that is, either pirated things or things you made, like the 2 hours of HD video of your daughter's last birthday party that really isn't going to work on YouTube), why should I, the consumer, pay so other people can use my bandwidth to get stuff from suppliers when I could just as easily get it directly from the supplier?

Torrents don't make it *faster* to download compared to downloading directly from a supplier who has fat pipes on their end (it is of course faster than downloading from some pirate site behind somebody's home cable modem). If I can choose to use my bandwidth *only* for downloading or for downloading at the cost of also uploading *and I'm paying a fair price for the content in the first place*, why would I choose torrents?

And I think there's something to the danger of wide distribution of naive torrent usage swamping available bandwidth simply to make more seeds available. I'm sure there are ways it could be made to be as efficient as possible, but how much would that help? We're distributing the cost of making the data easily available and moving it around across more people but we're also raising the volume of traffic simply because this distribution depends on lots of redundant copies.

Also, I'm already willing to pay a premium to get high-def TV and cable, including movies on demand, why would I even want to download full movies to a computer? Certainly not to watch them. If I want a copy of a movie on DVD it's cheaper and easier to just get it from NetFlix and copy the DVD than to download it.

Until the DVR in my home theater system *is* the same computer I would be using to download and then view movies over the net, why would I even want such a service when I have cable? And once that convergence happened, would I even have a choice over how the content I wanted got into my machine (at least for legitimately-purchased content)

Or am I totally missing the point?

Cheers,


Eliot

Fri, Feb. 2nd, 2007 12:14 am (UTC)
anthonyberet: Re: I Kind of Agree with Mark

I think you are missing a couple of things. The fact that BT utilises the upstream bandwidth of downloaders saves bandwidth costs for content providers. This means there is an opportunity for products to be cheaper, and for smaller providers to compete with smaller resources. These benefits could be passed on to the consumer, although I do accept that the content industries have been slow to price their products to reflect the lower costs of possible internet distribution.

Redundant seeds in torrents don't consume any significant bandwidth - The transfer of data does that, and is only caused by downloaders who want the content.

As for the matter of watching content on a PC - not everyone has or wants cable TV. You are right that convergent PC/TV equipment would boost the mainstream suitability of BT to provide movies and TV, but the fact that so many infringing torrents are available shows that there is already a very significant userbase who watch content on their PCs, or who are happy to burn DVDs to watch on standalone video equipment.

Thu, Feb. 1st, 2007 09:36 pm (UTC)
artemster: The Answer is Obvious

As Mark so eloquently states, the customers are with you, Bram, and content-producers are not. The content-producers are gambling on you going away and customers abandoning this method of sharing content.

But, as we had seen before - this is a matter of fear - holding on to old distribution methods for dear life. If Cuban can't see money in BitTorrent, he simply disrespects the people using it - and de facto calls them penniless. Believe me, nothing could be further from the truth.

Don't listen to Cuban, he has as much business sense as he has technology sense.

Thu, Feb. 1st, 2007 09:43 pm (UTC)
omnifarious: OT, but... (should've previewed that)

As a random thing unrelated to this post...

Advogato has implement the ability to generate your Advogato diary from an RSS or Atom feed. Livejournal can generate RSS or Atom feeds via http://bramcohen.livejournal.com/data/atom and you can even make it generate a feed of just posts that have a particular tag by putting ?tag=whatever at the end of the URL.

It would be nice to read your blog syndicated via Advogato, because when I want to read programming related stuff instead of just random ramblings of friends, Advogato is a much better place to go.

Fri, Feb. 2nd, 2007 05:23 am (UTC)
soopah: Bravo

Bravo. Although I'm not sure this guy's wild swinging style comments even merited a response, this was a very funny one and worth posting either way. Thanks for the laugh, and bravo for the clear headed thinking. And thanks, of course, for Bit Torrent.

Fri, Feb. 2nd, 2007 08:30 am (UTC)
sidepocket_pro

I deam this Cuban guy offialy PWND! :D

Sun, Feb. 4th, 2007 06:41 pm (UTC)
axe_batman

I may have lost track of the argument. But let my two pence be clear.

If it's about "will BitTorrent work with paid content?"

It works now, not because of how free and cool it is, but because of how well it works.

Tomorrow, if everything illegal becomes physically undoable and I'd have to pick ... I'd gladly pick BitTorrent for my content delivery. Why? Because it's a slick, well-oiled machine that proved itself in the now.

Cheers!

Wed, Feb. 7th, 2007 12:01 am (UTC)
jjrs: To recap-

Great points on both sides. To recap-

When it comes to understanding and making software, Mark Cuban is Bram Cohen's b!tch.

While he might not exactly be Bill Gates...When it comes to making money and getting rich off software, Bram Cohen remains very, very much Mark Cuban's b!tch.

Bram's a genius and he gets full respect for revolutionizing the internet...but I think Mark's point was that there isn't a viable business model that'll allow him to get rich off of it. And let's face it, as much as I wish Bram wealth and prosperity, there's a good chance he's right. Years into bitorrent's creation, he's certainly been right thus far.

Wed, Feb. 7th, 2007 06:04 am (UTC)
jeremiah999: Sadly enough, Mark Cuban is probably right

My high-speed cable Canadian ISP, Rogers, is now throttling Bittorrent traffic down to basically dialup speeds. Yes, that means 0.5kbps of upload and *maybe* 50 kbps of download--but for me, now, it usually stays at 5.0kbps download--and yes, the news since February 1st 2006 is that they've now found a way to throttle even encrypted Bittorrent traffic via deep packet inspection.

I'm really wishing they had taken you up on your offer of Bittorrent caching, Bram, but unfortunately they've seen fit to invest their money in Ellacoya and Cisco.

Wed, Feb. 7th, 2007 06:05 am (UTC)
jeremiah999: correction: February 1st, 2007, not 2006 nt

nt

Thu, Feb. 22nd, 2007 08:31 am (UTC)
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Who's Bram Cohen BTW?

Tue, Mar. 6th, 2007 04:34 am (UTC)
dmc82: ever heard of the strawman fallacy

Come on bram, your post is misleading and doesn't answer cuban's legitimate questions. What gives?

Wed, Sep. 12th, 2007 04:07 pm (UTC)
elmann: Why Bittorrent Must Be Stopped!

Don't you see that Bittorrent, like You Tube, has created a threat to the mass-media oligopoly? This technology could be used to stream video to millions of viewers for close to free. Anybody could create a media company that could compete with the big boys! The facts reported by such a company might not comply with the version of the "truth" created by the CFR! This would not only cost the big media giants billions, but could undermine their ability to control elections. Don't you see why it must be stopped?

Mon, Jul. 30th, 2012 02:04 pm (UTC)
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