In a family with 5 boys, teaching the importance and value of sharing has always been a very central family philosophy for my parents. First we learned to share our toys, then to share our friends, and in the past few years, we have begun to learn how to share a car. In this sense, when we talk about sharing with others, we often speak of the term as having to do with a physical object (or person) that can be equally divided (in terms of time, use, or even physical division) for the better participation and experience of all users.
However, since the emergence of computer networks and the Internet as sources of information and communication, sharing has taken a completely different form. We now see an increase in sharing practices known as file sharing or data sharing that allow users to distribute or provide access to digitally stored information such as video games, computer programs, multimedia (audio, video, and images), documents, and any other type of information. Like “traditional sharing”, the purpose of online sharing is also “the better participation and experience of its users”, and two forms of (online) sharing that were born alongside computer networks and the Internet are P2P networks and OSS.
Peer-to-Peer (P2P) Networks
Peer-to-Peer (P2P) computing is a distributed network architecture that divides tasks between peers. In other words, unlike client-server based services, which consists of centralized systems that allow functions to be concentrated in one big central server, P2P networks are individual interconnected computers that make up a decentralized network where peers (individual computers) are free to upload or download (share) content with other peers in a specific network. Once connected, the P2P network allows users to retrieve content that other peers have downloaded or uploaded, stored in their computer and have given permission to share. Therefore, the community of users in a given network is responsible for deciding what content is available. This way, unpopular content will eventually disappear, while more popular content will be easily accesible. In order to facilitate connectivity and accessibility the only requirements for a peer to join a P2P network are an Internet connection, and P2P software that allows connectivity.
There are many applications of P2P networks, and among these we find: content delivery, science and education (Sciencenet), search (through free distributed search engines), communications networks (Skype), etc. The most utilized application of P2P networks is content delivery, and within this type of applications there are many different P2P softwares. Whether it be Kazaa, LimeWire, eMule, Vuze or the infamous Napster, all of these programs allow users to connect with one another and upload/download (screen shot 1) (screen shot 2) digital content: documents, software, media, etc.
- No need for network operating system
- Does not need expensive servers because of P2P connections
- No need for a systems administrator
- If one computer fails, it will not disrupt other parts of the network
- Since users access other users computer, uploader’s might have slower systems
- Files cannot be centrally backed up
- Files are not organized into specific shared areas or folders which makes it difficult to locate certain files
- Ensuring a virus-free environment is entirely up to the individual users
- There is little or no security besides OSS permissions
As for the social and economic impact, the expansion of the P2P concept has lead to what Harvard Professor Yochai Benker calls commons-based peer production which he uses to identify collaborative projects such as Open Source Software programs:
Commons-based peer production is a socio-economic system of production that is emerging in the digitally networked environment. Facilitated by the technical infrastructure of the Internet, the hallmark of this socio-technical system is collaboration among large groups of individuals, sometimes in the order of tens or even hundreds of thousands, who cooperate effectively to provide information, knowledge or cultural goods without relying on either market pricing or managerial hierarchies to coordinate their common enterprise.
Open Source Software
Open Source Software (OSS) consists of any computer software with a freely available source code in which anyone who wishes to use, edit, or distribute the code is free to do so. In order to promote OSS usage, the Open Source Initiative (OSI) was created as a non-profit corporation, formed to educate about the benefits of open source, and to build connections among different open source communities. Some of the better known OSS promotors and users are Wikipedia, Linux, Firefox, and Android (Android OS).
These OSS advocates believe that software should be published with an open-source license so that anybody would be able to develop or edit different software and understand its key internal functions in order to make the program customizable for the user. There are several key reasons why users are urged to switch to open-source software; the main reason being, the heightened value proposition (the promise of value to be delivered to the customer) in security, affordability, transparency, operability, and flexibility.
- Few licensing fees
- Easy to manage
- Continuous, real-time improvements
- Company independence
- hands-on exploration
- Not entirely free
- Learning curve (hiring an IT expert might be necessary for business purposes)
- Confused users
- Orphan softwares
- On your own (no one is obligated to help answer OSS questions)
It is evident that we live in an increasingly open society that implores users to be actively open about software, information, and other data/media they produce or edit. It can be argued that open-source software and P2P connectivity benefits and helps society in the same way Wikipedia and Google helped me write this blog. It is often very difficult to do things on our own, and most of the time we can’t. Whether it be in sports, music, film, education, science, politics or economics, people are always sharing their experiences and knowledge with others, and this is how (1) we become better as individual people, but also (2) become better at getting things done. Through collective knowledge and collaboration we can do anything, and this is why sharing data and information is very important, despite what the “big” companies say or want.