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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.

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.

Thu, Feb. 1st, 2007 08:43 pm (UTC)
mcuban: Re: Get a clue

i got to the 3rd party sites by searching on bittorrent.com for Saw3 and Prison Break

Fri, Feb. 2nd, 2007 12:38 am (UTC)
mackys: Why do ISPs hate upstream traffic?

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.

Can Mark or anyone else give me a succint explanation why ISPs hate symmetrical bandwidth usage so much? From my naive understanding, once you pay your $300/mo for that T1, you get all 1.5 Mb up and all 1.544 Mb down. And you pay that $300/mo whether you send packets or not. The only moderately plausible explanation I seem to be seeing for this behavior is given in this Ask MeFi thread: "They want to upsell you to a business plan with more balanced up/down bandwidth, or sell you hosting packages." Or, equivalently: "The BIG reason they do this is that they sell the upstream bandwidth (that they aren't giving to their residential customers) to people hosting servers in colocation centers. Those guys don't need any download bandwidth, only upload."

Frankly, this idea that carriers are going to crack down on upstream bandwidth usage that their customers have honestly paid for, sounds pretty skeezy. Perhaps customers will begin voting with their feet and we'll see mass bankruptcies of ISPs that filter torrent traffic. If torrent traffic is indeed a huge portion of net traffic, then that outcome seems almost guaranteed. If that's where the net goes, then filtering out torrent traffic would be like filtering out every packet sent towards port 80.

Fri, Feb. 2nd, 2007 12:52 am (UTC)
jsully1: Re: Why do ISPs hate upstream traffic?

They don't hate upstream per se. Bandwidth is bandwidth, from a webhost's perspective, and from an ISP's perspective. The fact that BitTorrent allows end users to actually *use* the upstream is what is irritating to ISP's.

Fri, Feb. 2nd, 2007 02:40 am (UTC)
mcuban: Re: Why do ISPs hate upstream traffic?

I've been installing networks since 1983 and bandwidth planning has and always will be an issue. ISPs, which I define as those providing actual connectivity to homes (there are backbone ISPs, but bandwidth isnt scarce there, so its not relevant here), must forecast the amount of bandwidth a segment can support and the maximum number of nodes that operate happily in that plan. It doesnt matter if its switched bandwidth or not, an unexpected increase in bandwidth usage by the nodes can slowdown throughput on the segment, or effectively shut it down.

when there is a sustained surge in bandwidth, particularly if its systemic and coming from many nodes across the network, then the ISP has to reduce the nodes per switchs, routers, whatever they are using and that costs money. Which they dont want to spend.

Its a lot cheaper to enforce the terms of service.

And as far as seeing people leaving their ISPs because of the Torrent hosting policies. It happens all the time. People set their upstreams at the limit and the ISPs try to crack down, so people switch.

ISPs love it. It moves the bw hogs somewhere else. Joe and Sally Doe that do email, some surfing and post their kids pictures are their best customers. NOt people swapping torrents

Fri, Feb. 2nd, 2007 12:49 am (UTC)
praetorian42: Re: Get a clue

Honestly- for a rich guy, I'd think that you would have better grammar.

I guess it isn't a prerequisite.

Fri, Feb. 2nd, 2007 05:07 am (UTC)
bluur: Re: Get a clue

Making fun of grammar, way to rise above the conversation.

"I'm so witty I'll add a humerous quip that wastes everyone's time reading it!"

bravo sir. bravo.

Mark, I agree with your arguement. The only problem is that many users, including myself, don't care that illegal downloads are going on. The record industry makes millions off of bands that see very little. The producers and directors of movies aren't crying themselves to sleep at night.
(Deleted comment)

Fri, Feb. 2nd, 2007 11:55 pm (UTC)
lemonobrien: Re: Get a clue

Tamago www.tamago.us

I don't really want to say anything negitive about bitTorrent, or RedSwoosh :) especially redSwoosh since i know the guys there.

Mon, Feb. 5th, 2007 09:23 pm (UTC)
ex_ga_woo: Re: Get a clue

I was about to reply suggesting you use OpenID so we'd know for sure it's actually Mark Cuban and saw that Bram has it disabled...which is weird.

Tue, Feb. 6th, 2007 02:09 pm (UTC)
neillparatzo: Re: Get a clue

Is this how it feels to never have created anything worth using?

Tue, Feb. 6th, 2007 02:36 pm (UTC)
jdmonroe: Re: Get a clue

How many times do I need to pay for the same content? I like the movie, song, or thing and I pay for a ticket, dish, DVD but still I don't really own anything. I pay extra for HDTV, DVR and other "premium" services. I consume it and it is gone.

The world has changed, content is to be consumed and that is what we are doing. Why does it matter how we consume it when we have already paid for it several times over. Also, I want to consume that material when I want so that I can work 12 hours a day.

As for bandwidth and ISP's we are paying a fair market price to do whatever we want. If I want to download the latest Debian distribution 10 times or once I am paying for it! There are models and price points out there where people will pay, again. For some content. But always remember this, content is transient and consumable. Here today and gone tomorrow.

Tue, Feb. 6th, 2007 04:00 pm (UTC)
mpeg2tom: Re: Get a clue

I can now tell my wife she should not be embarassed by my LiveJournal account since Mark Cuban and Bram Cohen both have one :)

BTW, I'm sad because when my Adelphia went Comcast they dropped HDNet, which I consider Mark's best achievement to date...

Tue, Feb. 6th, 2007 04:29 pm (UTC)
fmaxwell: Re: Get a clue

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.


I've not heard Ethernet referred to as a "protocol," a term more commonly applied to TCP/IP, FTP, SMTP, POP3, Telnet, and so on. But, that aside, Ethernet has a capacity of up to 1 gigabit per second (1000 Mbit/s) per cable. Divide that among 100 clients and each one still can enjoy 10 Mbit/s with everyone using full bandwidth at all times (actual usage is much more sporadic). Ethernet is not the limiting factor for speed.

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


That only works when it's some tiny minority of technically savvy users who are hit with the big TOS stick. If average users start to be targeted this way, they won't tolerate it, switching providers if necessary. Your lack of business acumen is showing: Market pressure is why both upload and download speeds have increased while prices have remained relatively stable.

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.


You're not crazy -- just naive. All subscription-based businesses (like ISPs) would love a model where they collected revenue and none of the subscribers used the service. Netflix would like you to pay them $4.99/month and never check out a movie. Your mobile phone provider would be thrilled if you paid for the service and never used the phone.

Your claim that ISPs are not pushed to provide more bandwidth to users based on demand is patently absurd. When I got my cable modem, my upstream bandwidth was 256kbps and my downstream was 1.5Mbps. In the intervening years, the upstream has climbed by a factor of six and downstream by almost four. As speed has increased, caps have also increased for residential customers.

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


So you expected to search public torrents and find legal downloads of movies? Wouldn't you think that a studio would distribute such content via their own, non-public torrents? Microsoft is making Vista and Office available for download via FTP and/or HTTP. But if you search for downloads of them on public servers, all you're going to find is bootleg copies, which proves nothing.

Or are you saying that it is Bram's fault that Lion's Gate and Fox have chosen not to distribute content via BT? As shown by the availability of the bootlegs you cite, BT is perfectly suited to distribution of movies (thus disproving your own claims that ISPs would make such transfers impossible with bandwidth caps and throttling). One can find almost any protocol being used for copyright infringement, whether it's FTP, HTTP, e-mail, or BT. That it is used that way does not make it any less viable as a protocol.

As Apple has shown with iTunes, the public is more than willing to pay for electronically distributed content. The average consumer does not know or care about the mechanics behind the content distribution -- whether it's FTP, BT, a proprietary protocol, or gnomes putting it on their hard drives as they sleep matters none to them.

Your arguments have done nothing to shake my faith in P2P for content distribution or BT specifically.