We finally have a date (well, a season) for the release of “BitTorrent Speed,” crypto-streaming network TRON’s heavily publicized experiment with peer-to-peer file-sharing protocol BitTorrent. Per a press release sent late last week [emphasis ours]:
“BitTorrent Speed, software that connects and rewards users with BitTorrent (BTT) tokens, is expected to be widely available by summer on the popular µTorrent Classic Windows client, the company announced today at its niTROn blockchain conference in San Francisco.”
“[BitTorrent speed] will create the world’s largest blockchain application for speedy uploading and downloading of files.”
So, what to make of it?
To an extent, TRON’s BitTorrent could succeed in bringing about blockchain’s first, desperately pined-for “killer app”—that which first introduces the wonders of “tokenization” to the mainstream. With its 100 million users, a tokenized BitTorrent would easily rout competitors from other networks. The most beloved and successful “dApps” so far, on Ethereum, routinely bring in less that 25 users a day and even their all-time-highs were brief and fell off sharply.
But there’s a problem. Nobody seems to know whether TRON’s chief, Justin Sun, can pull it off. His network is faltering. An ex-BitTorrent CEO has dismissed him as a non-technical hypeman. He supposedly plagiarized TRON’s protocol from Ethereum J, another protocol. Does TRON’s BitTorrent revamp stand a chance or will it be pronounced dead on arrival?
Why tokenize BitTorrent at all?
A reminder: BitTorrent is a decentralized file-streaming network. Files are downloaded from the hard drives of those who have already downloaded them. Users can choose to act as de facto “hosts” and allow other computers to use their bandwidth to download files speedily, or else choose to “leech”—download a file from another’s computer then shut off the connection and stop other users from using their bandwidth. Because the protocol is free to use, there is no financial incentive not to leech. This means there is no guarantee that the connection of those who do choose to host will be fast, meaning BitTorrent is often slow.
Sun believes that his $1.6 billion market-capped TRON network can host a BitTorrent-specific “token”—dubbed BTT—that will provide a monetary incentive for more people, with faster connections, to host, speeding up the network and generating revenue for BitTorrent itself. If a success, this would indeed be the world’s first fully-tokenized, multi-million user strong “dApp.” That’s a big if.
Swings and roundabouts
Sun’s gambit has already been greeted with suspicion. Simon Morris, who briefly worked under Sun as BitTorrent CEO after the company was bought by TRON for $126 million, told Breaker that Sun didn’t have a “technical bone in his body” and that TRON’s barely tested network would “literally melt” under the pressure of BitTorrent’s 100 million monthly users.
Moreover, TRON’s decentralized managerial system, or “governance,” is dysfunctional at best. Consortiums tasked with verifying the network—so-called “super-representatives”—are often loss-making, and often must bribe TRON’s so-called “voters” to keep them in power, as Decrypt reported last year. This complicates and slows TRON’s performance. So to many, TRON’s BitTorrent gambit looks like little more than a limp grasp at relevancy.
But could it work? Possibly. For one, TRON super-representative Misha Lederman has offered a kind-of rebuttal to ex-BitTorrent chief Morris’s claims. Much of the traffic, he argued, will be handled “off-chain”—through a “high-performance private ledger”—as well as “on chain”—through TRON’s own decentralized protocol. And indeed, this is detailed in TRON’s updated BitTorrent white paper.
Others, meanwhile, have urged skeptical onlookers to give TRON the benefit of the doubt. Ryan Selkis, of blockchain research site Messari, told Bloomberg that it would be unwise to prematurely dismiss the project. “A lot of people wrote off Tron as all hype/marketing and no substance, but they made a lot of noise with the BitTorrent acquisition, and now I think it’s an open question of whether they will be one of crypto’s most high profile ‘fake it til you make it’ success stories,” he said, adding: “It’s been wild to watch.”
And Jeff Krueger, the editor of crypto jobs site “Workcoin,” noted in a Facebook post that many Ethereum and EOS-based apps “work just fine” on TRON, and that the BitTorrent tokenization was a “legitimate” use case. Even Morris acknowledges this—he just believes that TRON is the wrong platform to make it happen.
A cautious undertaking
Yet even these would-be supporters remain somewhat skeptical. Krueger admitted that “TRON may very well implode.” And TRON itself has equivocated in its own defence. Though its white paper later clarifies the on-chain/off-chain distinction, its official rebuke of Breaker’s article merely dismissed Morris as a “disgruntled” ex-employee, offering little other substantive comment. And there is no mention of which “high performance private ledger” it plans to deploy in the updated BitTorrent/TRON white paper. And besides, a “private ledger” would undermine TRON’s decentralized premise.
But even after all those ifs, buts, and maybes, what happens if TRON’s BitTorrent token does work? TRON itself allows, in something of an understatement, that the BitTorrent protocol “works quite well already,” and that the token would essentially be an optional “overlay.” And that’s the thing—BitTorrent is already a “killer app.” TRON deserves no credit for that.