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Peer-to-Peer by Andy Oram

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Follow the users

It seems obvious but bears repeating: Definitions are useful only as tools for sharpening one’s perception of reality and improving one’s ability to predict the future. Whatever one thinks of Napster’s probable longevity, Napster is the killer app for this revolution.

If the Internet has taught technology watchers anything, it’s that predictions of the future success of a particular software method or paradigm are of tenuous accuracy at best. Consider the history of “multimedia.” If you had read almost any computer trade magazine or followed any technology analyst’s predictions for the rise of multimedia in the early ’90s, the future they predicted was one of top-down design, and this multimedia future was to be made up of professionally produced CD-ROMs and “walled garden” online services such as CompuServe and Delphi. And then the Web came along and let absolute amateurs build pages in HTML, a language that was laughably simple compared to the tools being developed for other multimedia services.

Users reward simplicity

HTML’s simplicity, which let amateurs create content for little cost and little invested time, turned out to be HTML’s long suit. Between 1993 and 1995, HTML went from an unknown protocol to the preeminent tool for designing electronic interfaces, decisively displacing almost all challengers and upstaging CD-ROMs, as well as online services and a dozen expensive and abortive experiments with interactive TV—and it did this while having no coordinated ...

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