Program Provides Solution to the Sharing Challenge
Jun 22, 2006 5:00 AM PT
Everywhere you turn these days in the digital world you'll run into touts about sharing. Share files. Share photos. Share video.
That's fine, but someone forgot to tell the e-mail providers about this sharing craze. They're still putting limits on attachments to e-mail messages that put a grave crimp in any serious sharing to be done over the Net.
Sure, there are Web sites where you can share media files, but they have a community orientation. That means, for most of them, sharing media with strangers.
For many folks, sharing means e-mail. Problem is, what people want to share -- folders of photos and bandwidth hogging video files -- isn't being accommodated by many e-mail systems.
Sending Really Large Files
What's the solution? Robert Levitan believes it's Pando.
Levitan, who is CEO of Pando and a co-founder of iVillage, a popular women's destination on the Web that was recently purchased by NBC-Universal for some US$600 million, explains that his new venture attempts to blow away current limits on e-mail attachments.
"We allow you to send any size file or folder up to one gig directly from your computer to another computer," he says. "It's the only solution for sending really large files."
Although notification that someone's sent you a file through Pando appears as an attachment to an e-mail message, the actual file resides on the sender's computer.
When you click on the Pando attachment, a piece of software called a client connects to the sender's computer and pulls the file into your computer.
That's a classic peer-to-peer (P2P) model. Pando even uses a popular P2P technology called BitTorrent to accomplish its tasks. "We use BitTorrent in our software stack," Levitan acknowledges. "We're very much an extended version of BitTorrent with added functionality."
I've seen this P2P approach used before, and some of its aspects bug me.
First, you have to download a piece of software. Trying to get someone to download something adds a degree of friction to the process that many people would rather avoid.
Second, when someone accesses your computer, it sucks up processing power and if you're in the middle of a critical task, you'll want every bit of processing power your machine can muster.
Finally, in order for someone to download a file from your computer, your machine has to be on all the time because you never know when a file sharer will be making a social call to it.
Send and Forget
Levitan hopes that the viral aspects of the program will help breakdown the resistance some people have to downloads. "It's the Adobe Acrobat model," he opines. "You've been sent a PDF file. If you don't have Adobe Acrobat, click here and get it. It's free."
As for processing demands, he noted, they're handled in a way that reduces overhead on individual systems. If five people have received the file and a sixth begins downloading it, that sixth person will be receiving parts of the file from the other five. "The strain of the delivery will be distributed across the network," he says.
The computer offline problem is a tricky one to solve, but one that Pando addresses ingeniously.
When a "seed" message is sent to a list of recipients, a copy of the file referenced in that message is stored on Pando's servers. It remains there for 14 days. If the computer that sent the seed message isn't available, the file can be downloaded from Pando's computers.
That piece of the Pando package makes it a "send and forget" application with the convenience of e-mail, Levitan avers. "I can send something to 20 friends," he says. "I don't have to worry if they're online or offline. When they come online, it will be available to them."
John Mello is a freelance business and technology writer who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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