2.1.B. The emergence of peer to peer as technological infrastructure

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2.1.B. The emergence of peer to peer as technological infrastructure

But how does all of the above it apply to technology?

In this and the next section, I will attempt to describe two related aspects. One is that P2P-formatted technologies are now the very infrastructure of business processes. Second, that the new technologies of communication being created are in fact an alternative communication infrastructure that in part transcends the state and corporate control of traditional one-to-many mass media. It is also emerging as a infrastructure of the free cooperation of autonomous agents.

This is not to say that the new infrastructure is not controlled 'at all', that corporate forces are not at work in it, but means that we cannot be blind to its radical potential, and radical 'actuality' neither. Here as in the other sections we will see how P2P is at the same time the very basis of the system, while also significantly transcending it. While there is no direct cause to effect link between peer to peer technology, as such, and the peer to peer relational dynamic which is the topic of our research. Peer to peer technology is more likely than centralized technology to be a technological basis for enabling and supporting peer to peer human relationships. This relationship is borne out by our description of the use of P2P technologies to create an alternative peer-based communications infrastructure (2.1.C), as well as for an infrastructure of human cooperation (2.1.D.).

The Internet, as it was conceived by its founders (Abbate, 1999), and evolved in its earliest format, was a point to point network, consisting of equal networks, and the travel of data uses different sets of resources as necessary. It is only later, after the rise of stronger and weaker networks, of open, semi-closed and closed networks, that the internet became hybrid, but it still in essence functions as a distributed network, having no central core to manage the system. Its hierarchical elements, such as the layered internet protocol stack (though specifically designed to allow P2P processes), the domain name system (a decentralized system of authorative servers which can disconnect participants, you can't arrive at an address without DNS intervention), or internet governance bodies , do not prohibit many-to-many communication and participation, but enable it. The evolution of the internet is largely seen to be 'organic' rather than centrally directed, no single central player can direct it, though some players are more influential than others.

The web similarly was seen as a many-to-many publishing medium, even though it follows a semi-hierarchical client-server model (hence decentralized rather than distributed). However, it is still and will remain a essentially participative medium allowing anyone to publish his own webpages. Because of its incomplete P2P nature, it is in the process of becoming a true P2P publishing medium in the form of the Writeable Web projects (also called the read/write web), that allow anyone to publish from his own or any other computer,in the form of blogging etc… Other P2P media are instant messaging, chat, IP telephony systems, etc.. For the internet and the web, P2P was not yet explicitly theorized (though the idea of a network of networks was), they are weak P2P system in that they only recognize ‘strong’ members, DNS-addressed computers in the internet, servers in the case of the web. In the systems developed afterwards, P2P was explicitly theorized: they are ‘strong’ P2P systems, in which all members, also the weak members (without fixed DNS address for the internet, blogs with permalinks in case of the web) can participate.

Filesharing systems were the first to be explicitly tagged with the P2P label, and this is probably the origin of the concept in the world of technology. In such systems, all voluntary computers on the internet are mobilized to share files amongst all participating systems, whether that be documents, audiofiles, or audiovisual materials. In June 2003, videostreaming became the internet application using the largest bandwidth, and some time before, online music distribution had already surpassed the physical distribution of CD’s (in the U.S.). Of course, in the public mind filesharing is mostly associated with the sharing of piracy of copyrighted music and video's . Though the earliest incarnations of these P2P systems still used centralized databases, they are now, largely thanks to the efforts of the music industry , mostly true P2P systems, in particular Bittorrent and the planned development of Exeem. Each generation of P2P filesharing has been more consistent in its applications of peer to peer principles .

Finally, grid computing uses the P2P concept to create ‘participative supercomputers’, where resources, spaces, computing cycles can be used from any participant in the system, on the basis of need. It is generally seen as the next paradigm for computing. Even programming now uses the P2P concept of object-oriented programming, where each object can be seen as a node in a distributed network.

All of the above clearly shows that the new format of our technological infrastructure, which lies at the basis of basic and economic processes, follow the P2P design. This infrastructure enables the interlinking of business processes, beyond the borders of the individual factory and company, and the interlinking of all the individuals involved. Soon, and perhaps it is already the case today, it will be justified to claim that without P2P-formatted technologies, it will be impossible to carry out production and all the related economic mechanisms.

I could go on, but what should emerge in your mind, is not a picture of a series of marginal developments, but the awareness that P2P networks are the key format of the technological infrastructure that supports the current economic, political and social systems. Companies have used these technologies to integrate their processes with those of partners, suppliers, consumers, and each other, using a combination of intranets, extranets, and the public internet, and it has become the absolutely essential tool for international communication and business, and to enable the cooperative, internationally coordinated projects carried out by teams. As we will see in our full review on the emergence of P2P practices across the social field, an emphasis on business and economic processes would be very one-sided. Politics, culture, and science are equally changed by distributed practices enabled by the new technological infrastructure. Examples are the grown of massive multi-authorship in different scientific fields, with hundreds of people involved in research projects, and the distributed use of scientific instruments, such as arrays of small radio telescopes.

On the other hand, P2P systems are not just the outcome of plans of the establishment, but are the result of the active intervention of consumers avid for free access to culture, of knowledge workers actively working to find technical solutions for their needed cooperative work, and of activists consciously working for the creation of tools for an emerging participative culture . P2P is both 'within' and 'beyond' the current system.