BitTorrent, the company that builds and operates peer-to-peer tools for people to distribute digital files and communicate with each other, is today making an advance on its latest attempt to tackle how we interact online. Maelstrom, BitTorrent’s web browser built on decentralized, P2P architecture, is now in beta.
Maelstrom first opened a limited alpha in December 2014, and since then BitTorrent says it’s had a strong response. Over 10,000 developers and 3,500 publishers have signed up to work with the platform, which is built on a fork of chromium. (You can see some of the fruits of that early work on Maelstrom’s GitHub page.)
Putting Maelstrom into beta will mean opening the project to more people who might be interested in an early look and seeing what content distribution might look like on a torrent-based service.
But “early look” are the operative words here. The beta, as with the alpha, is still Windows-only, and there is very little out there that points to what form these pages will actually take. “The alpha group was fairly modest, a few thousand,” a spokesperson told me. “But that helped us quite a bit.” The illustration above, he says, is a boarding page. An active Maelstrom page, he says, “would look the same. It’s built on a fork of chromium, so when it hits non-Maelstrom pages it will render them the same as any regular browser.” You may have either eight people “powering” the torrent you are about to download in Maelstrom, or you may have 800, and that number will be indicated at the top.
BitTorrent made a somewhat notorious name for itself early on as a creator of services that could be used for people to share files of premium content illegally — that is, download and use digital files of films, music, games and so on without paying for them.
More recently, it’s turned over a new leaf and has been using its technology to come up with creative ways of distributing content legally, while at the same time keeping some of the flexibility and speed that the P2P system affords over server-based architecture.
But at the same time, BitTorrent has taken on a campaigning bent. In a time of revelations about how government organisations like the NSA tap into the servers of many popular online services to access our private data in the name of national security, BitTorrent has championed its P2P framework as one way of avoiding prying eyes. Because there are no servers in a P2P system, there is no storage to access and read.
BitTorrent’s philosophy has hit the right place at the right time in a sense. “It’s a vision for the Internet that we’ve long held at BitTorrent,” BitTorrent’s CEO Eric Klinker notes in a blog post about the beta. “We believe it’s a necessary innovation to sustain a truly neutral, content-friendly network.”
BitTorrent has been working with an impressive roster of content creators and others in some of its other P2P-based projects, last week bagging the BBC’s Dr Who for one of its latest bundles. It will also have to work to get high-profile users signed up to Maelstrom to get it some critical mass.
In addition to that it’s already starting to think about how it might make revenue from it. “In terms of monetization, there’s a few options to be explored,” the spokesperson says. “There are models already established by companies like Opera and Firefox. And there is also tighter integration with Bundle that will offer many monetization opportunities. That is down the line a bit, but certainly a driver for this project.”