As part of NewsFree August, I thought I would include some tech-y tips. If it’s not your cup of tea, here are some cute pandas playing on a slide.

Ahh, torrent. Remember back in the day, when people told you that everything in the world is on Usenet? Actually it still is. But let’s leave that for the moment, and consider torrent. I am not giving a theoretical discussion about peer-to-peer networks and how they work (plus, you can find many many descriptions of p2p on the web if you want). From Michael Carrier’s paper on innovation and copyright (p10):

The defining characteristic of a p2p network is that the transfer of files is performed directly between users. Such a system stands in contrast to the client-server model, in which the data flows from server to client. In the client-server model, computer users request information from websites (servers) that is delivered to their computers (clients).

File-sharing on a p2p network is often facilitated by the compression of music into a digital file format known as MPEG Layer-3 (MP3), which speeds up transfers between computers. Networks that contain p2p architecture offer advantages over those implementing a client-server model. For starters, p2p scales more quickly and cheaply. Instead of clients lining up at the gates of a server, users rely only on their broadband connection, drive space, and local content to send files to and receive files from each other. In addition, p2p networks are more fault-tolerant and can handle a higher load than client-server models.

On the other hand, p2p networks significantly increase the likelihood and extent of copyright infringement. Users’ easy and instantaneous access to files vastly heightens the potential for widespread infringement.

But still, many of my tech-savvy friends don’t really know what torrenting is, or how to do it. Let’s go through this bit by bit. I am assuming you have a mac. If you have a PC, it is probably the same (though possibly a touch more likely you’ll download a virus accidentally, but I don’t know that for certain).

1. What is torrent?
Torrent is a file type, life a .pdf or a .doc. It is a .torrent file. This file contains the relevant information about the actual file you want to download. So, if you want to ‘torrent’ a concert file, you find the appropriate torrent, while will allow you to download the concert mp3 or whatever as a peer-to-peer file.

Think of the .torrent file as the map. You need the map.

2. What can I torrent?
All sorts of stuff. Much of it is illegal. Some is not. I am not advocating that you download files that are copyrighted. In fact, you could spend the rest of your days with the over 1 million downloadable music, books, and movies from the Internet Archive. It is the fastest way to get stuff from the Archives. Also, you can see Andy Baio’s data from 10 years of Pirating the Oscars. Interesting, right?

I think many games companies are using p2p now, I feel like Blizzard is using it internally to download their game clients (like Starcraft2, etc.). You don’t need extra software for this.

I know, this is like buying a bong at a head-shop, where people say they’d like to buy a ‘water pipe’ for herbs and stuff. I’m of two minds about this, but ultimately I don’t see how knowing how to do something illegal is the same thing as doing something illegal. Plus, you can use a damn 3D printer to print a frickin’ gun. Seriously. We have 99 problems and spreading knowledge of torrent is not one.

3. Where do I get torrents?
You can find lots of stuff at places like Isohunt, or the Pirate Bay. Go to this Wikipedia page on torrents. Read though to indexing/searching. Consider your options.

4. What do I do with a torrent once I found one?
Get a Bittorrent client. Oh, screw it. Just download Bittorrent.

Once you have that program, it will be able to ‘unpack’ .torrent files.

5. Can you give me some tips, tricks, expectation management?
Yes! A few things to know. First, if you are downloading something illegal, you are at risk of being sued for it. Given that Pirate Bay is like the 71st most popular site in the world, that risk is probably very small. This doesn’t make your actions morally or legally defensible. It just means you are unlikely to be prosecuted for them.

Second, if you are searching for a torrent, be sensible. It is possible you will be downloading a corrupted file, which will not play (read comments, sometimes they say something). Sort by the number of seeders, to increase your chances of getting the most popular torrents for the file you want. Often you can pick and choose individual files within a torrent pack. Minimizing size minimizes time to get it.

Third, you may end up with something like an .mkv file for video. Use VLC, or VideoLAN player, to watch it. It’s an open-source, play-most-everything program.

Fourth, it probably will take a long time to download something. This is because files are big, but also because your ISP is probably throttling your connection, especially when they detect that you are doing p2p. It’s not Netflix, you’re not going to be watching your video in 10 seconds. You might, but you might not.

6. So can you wrap this up, maybe like a workflow/step-by-step?

Do this:
a) Download Bittorrent. In preferences, you can manage how much of your bandwidth you want to use for uploads or downloads.

b) Download VLC.

c) Go to Pirate Bay, IsoHunt, the Internet Archive, etc., and search for something you want to see, hear, read.

d) Get the torrent, which will launch the bittorent client, which will download the file.

e) Wait.

f) Jellybeans!

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