Sync, BitTorrent’s Server-Less Dropbox Competitor, Hits 1M Active Users, Now Available As An API

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Sync, a file synchronization service from P2P platform BitTorrent that works as a kind of server-less Dropbox, has picked up some good traction since launching earlier this year, with 1 million active users archiving and synchronizing some 30 petabytes of data on the service to-date (up from 8 petabytes in July). Now BitTorrent is hoping to turn up the volume on that usage: today it’s releasing its first Sync API, which will let developers incorporate the service into their own apps as a way for users to access and share data.

On top of this, the company is also releasing a new version of Sync, 1.2, which will allow for native iPad support and faster transfer speeds of up to 90MB/second over LANs (with wireless slower).

This is not BitTorrent’s first foray into APIs: the company in the past has also offered them for uTorrent and Torque for BitTorrent itself.

This latest move, however, is about courting a wider range of developers beyond those focused only on media file sharing. It’s doing so with a couple of unique selling points: not only does BitTorrent claim that Sync works faster and better than many of the other services out there today; but it is also more private, in that the server-free, distributed nature of P2P architecture keeps data out of potentially creeping eyes.

There is backstory here: BitTorrent has been an outspoken critic of the NSA and what it has been doing in terms of accessing consumer data. Of course, this plays very much into BitTorrent’s hand, architected as it is without centralized services for basic distribution. A cynical person might even say that this is simply good (and obvious) marketing.

Regardless, for those who care about data privacy, services like Sync offer a clear alternative to some of the other services out there for file back-ups. “We believe a decentralized Internet is a better Internet,” a spokesperson told me flatly.

The big question, I think, will be if a critical mass of consumers out there cares enough about this issue to make the move to BitTorrent-based services, and — with the release of the API — whether BitTorrent can court a significant amount of developers to believe in this idea to use its services, too. One million actives is a good start but considering the tens of millions using Dropbox and others, there is a long way to go.

BitTorrent, of course, comes with some baggage of its own. The company has been working hard to live down a reputation as a facilitator of illicit file sharing from the earlier days of the Internet. More recently, the company has been building up its reputation along another track: it has been positioning itself as the go-to place for those in the creative industries to promote and share their content when they want to bypass (or complement) Apple, Amazon and the other leviathans of online content distribution.

While Sync, as with other BitTorrent services, remains free for now, the company will eventually be working revenue into the equation.

“We’ll be exploring monetization opportunities in 2014 but are not announcing such plans at this time,” a spokesperson told me. As with BitTorrent Bundles for packages of content and SoShare for file sharing, the idea will be to eventually add a freemium model to the service, charging for certain features or tiers of usage while keeping the core product free. “We’ll always allow basic functionality for BitTorrent Sync to be available free of charge. We are still exploring monetization options for the API,” the spokesperson said. The earliest as most likely area for charging first will be in enterprise-level classes of service.

Although the API is being made public today, you can see some early examples of how it’s being used in website deployment, social networking, and messaging. Playing on the privacy card, BitTorrent also suggests that the kinds of apps that might be likely users of the Sync API include “free speech applications… that combat censorship, and support the free distribution of ideas and information” as well as “secure storage applications that… enable user privacy, and prevent dragnet data collection.”

“We are already seeing groups independently working on private and secure [services],” the spokesperson said. “We see this as the start of the next great wave of innovation for the Internet.”

You can see the full details about the API here.

Image: Flickr