Ten years ago, November 2007 to be precise, we published an article featuring the four leading torrent site admins at the time.
Niek van der Maas of Mininova, Justin Bunnell of TorrentSpy, Pirate Bay’s Peter Sunde and isoHunt’s Gary Fung were all kind enough to share their vision of BitTorrent’s future.
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This future is the present today, and although the predictions were not all spot-on, there are a few interesting observations to make.
For one, these four men were all known by name, despite the uncertain legal situation they were in. How different is that today, when the operators of most of the world’s largest torrent sites are unknown to the broader public.
Another thing that stands out is that none of these pioneers are still active in the torrent space today. Niek and Justin have their own advertising businesses, Peter is a serial entrepreneur involved in various startups, while Gary works on his own projects.
While they have all moved on, they also remain a part of Internet history, which is why we decided to reach out to them ten years on.
Gary Fung was the first to reply. Those who’ve been following torrent news for a while know that isoHunt was shut down in 2013. The shutdown was the result of a lawsuit and came with a $110 million settlement with the MPAA, on paper.
Today the Canadian entrepreneur has other things on his hands, which includes “leveling up” his now one-year-old daughter. While that can be a day job by itself, he is also finalizing a mobile search app which will be released in the near future.
“The key is speed, and I can measure its speedup of the whole mobile search experience to be 10-100x that of conventional mobile web browsers,” Gary tells us, noting that after years of development, it’s almost ready.
The new search app is not one dedicated to torrents, as isoHunt once was. However, looking back, Gary is proud of what he accomplished with isoHunt, despite the bitter end.
“It was a humbling experience, in more ways than one. I’m proud that I participated and championed the rise of P2P content distribution through isoHunt as a search gateway,” Gary tells us.
“But I was also humbled by the responsibility and power at play, as seen in the lawsuits from the media industry giants, as well as the even larger picture of what P2P technologies were bringing, and still bring today.”
Decentralization has always been a key feature of BitTorrent and Gary sees this coming back in new trends. This includes the massive attention for blockchain related projects such as Bitcoin.
“2017 was the year Bitcoin became mainstream in a big way, and it’s feeling like the Internet before 2000. Decentralization is by nature disruptive, and I can’t wait to see what decentralizing money, governance, organizations and all kinds of applications will bring in the next few years.
“dApps [decentralized apps] made possible by platforms like Ethereum are like generalized BitTorrent for all kinds of applications, with ones we haven’t even thought of yet,” Gary adds.
Not everything is positive in hindsight, of course. Gary tells us that if he had to do it all over again he would take legal issues and lawyers more seriously. Not doing so led to more trouble than he imagined.
As a former torrent site admin, he has thought about the piracy issue quite a bit over the years. And unlike some sites today, he was happy to look for possible solutions to stop piracy.
One solution Gary suggested to Hollywood in the past was a hash recognition system for infringing torrents. A system to automatically filter known infringing files and remove these from cooperating torrent sites could still work today, he thinks.
“ContentID for all files shared on BitTorrent, similar to YouTube. I’ve proposed this to Hollywood studios before, as a better solution to suing their customers and potential P2P technology partners, but it obviously fell on deaf ears.”
In any case, torrent sites and similar services will continue to play an important role in how the media industry evolves. These platforms are showing Hollywood what the public wants, Gary believes.
“It has and will continue to play a role in showing the industry what consumers truly want: frictionless, convenient distribution, without borders of country or bundles. Bundles as in cable channels, but also in any way unwanted content is forced onto consumers without choice.”
While torrents were dominant in the past, the future will be streaming mostly, isoHunt’s founder says. He said this ten years ago, and he believes that in another decade it will have completely replaced cable TV.
Whether piracy will still be relevant then depends on how content is offered. More fragmentation will lead to more piracy, while easier access will make it less relevant.
“The question then will be, will streaming platforms be fragmented and exclusive content bundled into a hundred pieces besides Netflix, or will consumer choice and convenience win out in a cross-platform way?
“A piracy increase or reduction will depend on how that plays out because nobody wants to worry about ten monthly subscriptions to ten different streaming services, much less a hundred,” Gary concludes.
Perhaps we should revisit this again next decade…
The second post in this series, with Peter Sunde, will be published this weekend. The other two pioneers did not respond or declined to take part.