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NetFlix Takes Notice of WebTorrent Technology

December 16, 2015

When the peer-to-peer (P2P) file distribution technology known as BitTorrent hit the scene back in 2002, it was a major breakthrough in file downloading. Now, a new technology based on BitTorrent is looking to entirely revolutionize how the web works and companies like Netflix have taken notice. The project is called WebTorrent and it was launched by Feross Aboukhadijeh, who is a Stanford University graduate with significant peer-to-peer experience. He is the founder of PeerCDN, a content delivery network based on P2P which was sold to Yahoo in late 2013. 

BitTorrent has long held public interest and hope for consumer purposes. The communications protocol distributes large amounts of data over the Internet and since its introduction, its usage has grown. Depending on the source, BitTorrent downloads account for approximately 43 percent to 70 percent of all Internet traffic, an amount that reaches the order of petabytes of monthly data.

Online streaming has impacted the popularity of BitTorrent in recent years. That is exactly where WebTorrent is filling the gap in between streaming and P2P, and that is the reason Netflix has expressed interest in the project. By combining the two, WebTorrent looks to put together browser-based streaming and distributed file sharing, enabling quality, speed, and reliability at the same time.  

In this construct, users help host the video content of a site, making the experience fast, resilient, and capable of meeting the high demands of video streaming in an entirely new way. WebTorrent has been built to allow users to participate in the network directly from the browser, without a need to install or configure anything. Being tied to popular browsers in this way, the audience is open to hundreds of millions of potential users.

A few months ago, Netflix contacted Feross to discuss the technology which could ultimately help stream their popular video service. Netflix could realize serious improvements in reliability and capacity.

More than any lab project, the product is already on display on the homepage where users can see the ease of use built into video sharing and streaming features. For now, there is a lot of work to be done. Internet Explorer notably is not compliant with the underlying technology known as WebRTC. This project is one to keep tabs on as video sharing continues to grow.

Edited by Peter Bernstein

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