The other day I realized that within my little online social circle, there’s been a lot less mention of BitTorrent lately. It used to be that someone would link to a cool video, the site hosting the video file would go down because of high traffic, and then someone who grabbed the video before the outage would put it up on a torrent site so that everyone could see it again.
And then YouTube and Google Video came along. They offered free hosting and fast (free) bandwidth for videos so when people want to put some neat video of something on their sites, they just slapped it on YT or GV and pointed to it. And more important to the point about BitTorrent, they work completely within the browser environment. You upload videos to YT in the browser (GV has a standalone app for uploading) and the Flash-based viewer works in the browser (most Web users have Flash installed). They offered a seamless end-to-end solution to finding and watching videos all in one application.
Compare that with how you typically watch a video with BT. First you download a torrent file, then open that file up in your BT client (which you need to have previously downloaded and installed), then the file downloads, and finally you open that file in a media player, generally QuickTime, Windows Media Player, or some other player that needs to be downloaded and installed…and hopefully you have the right versions and codecs for the video in question. And that’s just the viewing side of things…publishing videos via BT was even more difficult, particularly for non-technical folks.
That BitTorrent took off at all is a testament to the utility of downloading files from multiple sources simultaneously, but it’s also telling that once an easier-to-use alternative came along that offered many of the key advantages of BT, people switched1…and really quickly too. Eventually BT will have to find its way into the browser (AllPeers is promising a Firefox extension that will do just that) and somehow overcome the multiple media players problem in order to find success.
 For videos of the type I’m talking about anyway. BT is by no means unpopular these days, particularly for feature-length movies, lossless music files, and other really large files. YT and GV are only taking BT’s “marketshare” in the realm of short video. ↩