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Closed-group Filesharing

Net: So, it looks like closed-group filesharing will be appearing in several more implementations soon. NTK writes this week, ‘the big new (yet old) killer app this year is going to be a some dinky little program that lets you easily and selectively share individual files with groups and sub-groups of your friends.’

It’s interesting to see this — it’s been several years in the offing. So far, there seems to be two main angles: secure collaboration in a private workgroup, and private filesharing in a closed group, defined socially (I’ve taken to calling this the ‘playgroup’ ;).

Groove is an example of the ‘workgroup’ idea. However, to my mind it’s been crippled by a strict one-platform policy, and possibly because it’s proprietary, commercial software. Still, nice idea.

Several MS researchers helped kickstart the ‘playgroup’ idea with this paper: The Darknet and
the Future of Content Distribution
. Clay Shirky’s thoughts.

WASTE is the classic implementation of a ‘playgroup’ darknet, sadly killed off due to ownership issues. NTK state that it ‘was too crypto-tastic to succeed’, but I don’t see that — it was actually excellent software; in particular, its entirely-decentralised and public-key-crypto-based architecture worked surprisingly well in practice, even with NAT, firewalls and all that problematic stuff.

More of the up-and-coming projects — at least the ones that intend to take heed of ‘playgroup’ needs — need to take cues from this app. The only negative in their approach is that the ‘gating’ of new members is too relaxed; all it takes is for one existing member to accept them into the group, their public key is flooded out to all, and pretty much everyone is set to accept the new key by default.

Robert Kaye has written about his thoughts on how this all should work in this ETCON presentation and this O’Reilly Network article. I’m not sure that a loosely-coupled SSH-based system is easily deployable, though; IMO an ‘all-in-one’ app is easier to get installed and deployed.

iFolder is Novell’s new tool in development. This sounds pretty interesting, although it seems very strongly workgroup-oriented, as does Foldershare, a new Windows-only app from some ‘ex-AudioGalaxy staffers’, apparently.

Both operate by using some kind of file-sync algorithm, along the lines of rsync or Unison, to synchronise multiple copies of a dir across a network. (Here’s hoping it’s up to the standard of Unison.) So very large collections will be duplicated throughout the net — which may actually be quite cool for backups, but strikes me as bad news for users on slow links.

And finally, there’s Clevercactus Share — this sounds interesting, is cross-platform, and is now in beta, apparently. Haven’t seen it, though ;)

So far, techie details on the internals of the latter three systems are scant; it’ll be interesting to see how heavily they tilt towards the ‘workgroup’, how well they deal with firewalls and NAT, the extent of crypto use, etc. But nice to see more software entering the field…

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