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Peer-to-Peer by Andy Oram

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Peer-to-peer architecture and second-class status

With this change in addressing schemes and the renewed importance of the PC chassis, peer-to-peer is not merely erasing the distinction between client and server. It’s erasing the distinction between consumer and provider as well. You can see the threat to the established order in a recent legal action: a San Diego cable ISP, Cox@Home, ordered several hundred customers to stop running Napster not because they were violating copyright laws, but because Napster leads Cox subscribers to use too much of its cable network bandwidth.

Cox built its service on the current web architecture, where producers serve content from always-connected servers at the Internet’s center and consumers consume from intermittently connected client PCs at the edges. Napster, on the other hand, inaugurated a model where PCs are always on and always connected, where content is increasingly stored and served from the edges of the network, and where the distinction between client and server is erased. Cox v. Napster isn’t just a legal fight; it’s a fight between a vision of helpless, passive consumers and a vision where people at the network’s edges can both consume and produce.

Users as consumers, users as providers

The question of the day is, “Can Cox (or any media business) force its users to retain their second-class status as mere consumers of information?” To judge by Napster’s growth, the answer is “No.”

The split between consumers and providers of information ...

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