Vyzovitis & Mirkin: VidTorrent/Peers @ Codecon 2006 3:15pm Friday

Continuing prejudicial CodeCon session previews:

Vyzovitis & Mirkin: VidTorrent/Peers, 3:15pm Friday @ Codecon 2006

VidTorrent is a protocol for global scale cooperative real-time streaming over the Internet. At a high level, VidTorrent is a peer-to-peer protocol that builds an adapative overlay mesh suitable for real-time streaming. The protocol works by aggressively probing for bandwidth and minimizing latency.
As their page seems to admit with an aside "about the name," VidTorrent is a name likely to confuse users. It's not based on BitTorrent or associated with BitTorrent, Inc. I'm all for vaguely evocative names -- like the "-ster" names after Napster and Friendster, the droppd vowel names after Flickr, and doubled vowels as in Google in Yahoo. This is too much like BitTorrent without any official relationship.

(I think the bad naming extends to the hosting research group, "Viral Communications". They say "Viral systems work by putting the intelligence at the edge and using terminals and radios as cooperative, agile, scalable elements that build networlks opportunistically" -- but that seems to match neither the classic nor nouveau marketing/adoption/memetics understood meanings of "viral". But that's neither here nor there.)

The technology looks better than the naming. The exact details appear to be hidden in the code, or even worse, PDFs of past presentations -- so perhaps this will be one of those rare demos that communicates more than the project website? (They did win a "Best demo" award at the January IEEE Consumer Communications and Networking Conference.)

My biggest question would be: is "live" (or nearly so) streaming important anymore? It is if you're trying to replicate broadcast TV, but its "liveness" is turning out to be as much an accident of the implementation technology as an inherent quality. Digital satellite lag, content-censorship bleep delays, Tivos, pay-per-show downloads, the real BitTorrent, and lots of other trends suggest people don't care that much about jitter across time of seconds, minutes, hours, or days. Only people in the same room need to see something in complete sync -- and even watching major events via Tivo, while a TV in the next room over watches the same event 'live', hasn't disrupted enjoyment in my recent experience.

So any "real-time" streaming solutions, no matter how cool the technology, may be optimizing the wrong thing and fighting the last war. Ship the shows, not the seconds, I say. Perhaps VidTorrent will also have useful tech for this more practical approach.

Update (4:31pm Friday): Most interesting idea was grouping overlay net peers together into trees matched by upstream bandwidth, as a way to manage asymmetry and heterogeneity of capabilities. As would be expected, they considered ('real-time') 'streaming' a distinct and important problem as compared to discrete-file-based p2p distribution, rather than just an arbitrary artifact of current media habits that can be discarded. I wondered, but did not get to ask if they have benchmarked their system against file-centric p2p, like say BitTorrent, to see how total throughput compares on similar constellations of machines.

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