Technology

Wirehog P2P Melds Social Networks and File-Sharing

Two rapidly growing Internet technologies in recent months have been socialnetworks and peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing. Now three whiz kids havecoupled those technologies together with a program released this week calledWirehog.

Wirehog is a P2P application that works in conjunction with thefacebook.com,a social networking Web site for more than 250 colleges and universities.

Both Wirehog and thefacebook.com are the cerebral offspring of three undergrads: Mark Zuckerberg and Andrew K. McCollum of Harvard and Adam D’Angelo of Caltech.

File Sharing with a Twist

Wirehog, now in beta, allows facebook members to trade files with eachother, as users trade files with P2P programs such as Kazaa, LimeWire andGrokster, but with a twist.

Programs like Kazaa emphasize searching. You want a file and you searcheveryone’s computer on the P2P network to find it. “There’s no searchinginvolved with Wirehog,” Zuckerberg told TechNewsWorld. “It’s about sharinginteresting personal files with your friends.”

“A lot of people have tried to do social networking with file-sharingapplications,” he said. “One reason why ours is perhaps more exciting isbecause our users don’t need to develop their own social networks aroundthis. You don’t need to add people as friends when you get on to Wirehogbecause of the integration with facebook.”

Friendship Trumps File-Sharing

Wirehog is meant to emphasize friendships, not file-sharing, Zuckerbergmaintained. With other P2P applications that have social functions,there’s a barrier created by the necessity to add people as friends once youinstall the program, he explained.

“That creates a different kind of network,” he said, “because the peopleyou’re adding as friends isn’t based on anything social but on who has themost files. But if you base the file-sharing application on an existingsocial network, then that social connection already exists.”

Echos of Aimster

According to Greg Bildson, COO of LimeWire, a P2P software maker based inNew York City, the blending of P2P and social networks has been a hotsubject recently.

“Social networks are a special type of group with useful trust and tasterelationships,” he told TechNewsWorld via e-mail. “You will tend to trustyour friends and share various tastes.”

“People in your social network will tend to help you develop your taste andintroduce you to new ideas,” he explained. “It is very natural to want toshare information and files with these people.”

He asserted that getting the interaction of social networks and P2P right isgoing to take a lot of work and experimentation. “WireHog sounds like apreliminary step in this direction,” he said.

“I would expect this area to evolve slowly over the next 5 years,” he added,”but it has a lot of potential for blockbuster applications.”

Jarad Carleton, an IT Industry Analyst with Frost & Sullivan in Palo Alto,California, likened Wirehog to Aimster, a P2P application that piggybackedon AOL’s instant messaging software.

“The theory was that you could more safely trade copyrighted material if youwere only trading within a trusted community of friends that you choose toinclude in your contact list,” he told TechNewsWorld via e-mail.

Avoiding Prosecution

“It’s a good concept for avoiding prosecution by the RIAA [RecordingIndustry Association of America] or the MPAA [Motion Picture Association ofAmerica],” he contended. “However, I would expect both trade organizationsto take a close look at this software and work to find a way to possibly tapinto some of the activity on the network to see what is being traded.”

He sees Wirehog as a great way to collaborate on projects without leavinghome.

For some of those projects, he explained, there will be a need for an easyway to transfer large files to classmates without running into file sizerestrictions with programs such as Yahoo Instant Messenger.

“This would be a useful and very legitimate reason to use this type ofsoftware on campus and is in fact what corporations have wanted from P2Psoftware in the corporate environment,” he observed.

“Regardless of the original intentions,” he added, “I’d have to say that theRIAA and the MPAA will view this software as a potential threat, and if thecreators are not careful, they could find themselves facing lawsuits fromthe RIAA just as Aimster did.”

Although the RIAA hadn’t scrutinized Wirehog in depth yet spokesperson Jonathan Levy toldTechNewsWorld via e-mail that “the lawsremain the same whether it’s ‘sharing’ copyrighted works without permissionto one person or to a million people.”

“It’s a violation of federal law and subjects a person to potential civiland criminal liability,” he declared. “Not only is it illegal, it deprivesthose who produce the music the ability to benefit from their creativeefforts.”

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