Peer-to-Peer Technology

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Peer to peer networks allow people to share or allocate resources to other people directly and without intermediary services or infrastructures. Since Napster appeared in 1999, various Peer-to-Peer (P2P) file sharing applications (e.g., WinMX, KaZaA, Gnutella, Freenet, winny) have jumped from shadow into the spotlight. Although neither Napster nor ICQ was the first P2P application, they were the first to use the standard of the internet as a backbone in their technology.

The secret behind P2P technology is that it enables electronic bi-directional communication. This is in contrast to client/server systems that require continuous polling of the client on the server, a technique with a very low efficiency, and forces centralization (and control) of knowledge.

The number of software platforms that enable P2P communication is increasing heavily, and stimulates people to share information and digitalize our bi- or multi-directional communication.


  • Software producers, consortiums and software free fighters.
  • User control (psychologic behavior of human beings)
  • Technological development (devices, access, structure)
  • Development of internet infrastructure (distribution, technology)
  • Digital Literacy


  • Intellectual rights, patents, or in general: knowledge protection (e.g. RIAA)
  • Regulations, restrictions, fear for instability or in general: control


The phenomenon of file and content sharing between peers has inspired new structures and philosophies. In a social context, it is the democratization of people and of content. It is also an infrastructure for new social groups and interactions.

Some of the implications peer to peer may have on the internet are:

1. Free fighters, some software companies and consortiums like FSC fight for making information available for anybody. They want to push knowledge and are convinced that digital libraries and multi-directional applications will stimulate more the creation of knowledge in our world.

2. P2P file sharing applications will increase the usefulness of the internet to many potentials users that were not users before. By enabling bi- or multi-directional communication, and due to the ongoing globalization, they are motivated to make use of this new communication highway.

3. Technological development will give birth to more powerful and efficient new products and therefore will stimulate the distribution of powerful devices for low prices, making this technology available for a growing market.

4. If the infrastructure improves, availability for P2P technology will increase. Nowadays, many people do not have the proper infrastructure to make use of the internet nor P2P technology.

5. The more people know how to work with a computer or an internet-connected device, the higher the use of P2P technology based applications will be.


1. Philippe Aigrain: presently CEO of Sopinspace, Society for Public Information Spaces His personal page is at


Dates for key milestones in the development of the driving force.

  • 1979: first version of USENET, a newsgroup application, the first peer-to-peer application
  • 1984: birth of Fidonet, decentralized system to exchange messages
  • 1996: first version of ICQ (released by Mirabilis)
  • 1998: establishing of DMCA (Digital Millenium Copyright Act )
  • 1999: birth of Napster

Web Resources: