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Brainstorming Session:
How Peer-to-Peer Sharing May Change Business

By Nicholas Mercader, November 10, 2000

New types of possible businesses possible with the P2P paradigm, making the P2P environment like a world all its own, borrowing a lot from existing physical operations and infrastructure, but having some new twists all its own. It is a concept that is rapidly getting overused but is one area that can rejuvenate all the excitement about the Net.

In the domain of portals, a few of the possibilities I've considered are listed below. They can be complete businesses all their own or inclusions to the operations of existing portals.

P2P Portals and Search Engines
This is in contrast to the likes of Yahoo!, Hotbot and Google, which are directories, media operators and search engines, and which index websites for virtually every important key word or (in Google's case) rank them by the quantity of links they get from other websites. In a P2P environment, such a search engine or portal - apart from physically being distributed amongst different "client" computers across the network in true P2P fashion - also aid in searching for information they want contained not just in websites but also in the hard drives of PCs connected to the network. Of course, there will need to be security measures and the software will have to ensure that only the information people want to display to the public will be available.

They can also "declare" beforehand via the software which information they will allow to be open for viewing by others. The key point is that such a P2P portal or search engine will not be for static websites alone, but primarily the dynamic contents and information of people in the network.

This would become a real-time search engine of sorts. Under such a system (in contrast to traditional portals and search engines) transactions would be affirmatively powered by the users, who see a list or index of items (files, information, etc.) that were voluntarily made by other users as they logged on and off the network. This index would at all times have an up-to-date list of the resources people are willing to share. When the user exited the application, their portion of the list (their files and resources) would automatically drop from the index with them.

After all, no matter how many web sites exist, the fact is that (especially individually), most people using the Internet do not have their own. In his way, people can "publish" what they want. In this way, with or without a website, such a system will enable people a new way to obtain the benefits of a website, whether they have one or not, and then some.

(Secure) Payment Systems

Secure P2P Payment Systems may sound like an oxymoron because connecting to such a P2P network makes it harder to pin responsibility on fraud and such things since there is not one web site that you can hold responsible. However, existing examples dispel this. Case in point: eBay's system. It virtually uses this system, but it works. Whether through user rating systems, escrow services, centralized payment systems and other methods, facilitators for P2P transactions can flower. The payment can be coursed through one of these entities while the discovery, merchandise transfer and fulfillment can be made via the P2P system.

Thus, individual rating systems like those you see on eBay will become essential, and there are other ways for companies to find a way to milk this opportunity. One of these borrows from existing systems, such as a secure, reliable escrow and payment processing services, but whose mechanisms lend itself especially for P2P transactions. Sure, there's PayPal, but P2P-specific operators will be there too.

Logistics and Fulfillment

In such a distributed environment, just as secure payment and related services will become essential, timely delivery and fulfillment of items exchanged in the system will become vital. And there won't be a dearth of operators who will take advantage of this.

Rating Services

Depending on the situation, there may be many times when trust will become the paramount issue, such as those related to commerce or anything that involves public transactions. eBay already does this in its own way with users' ratings and passionately guards such ratings with good reason, while unofficial groups devise rules and ban people who break them. Such a system will be even more important on many P2P environments, and as such, ratings services are a natural fit. Think of it like a Dun & Bradstreet or Moody's service for P2P.

Backup Systems
Instead of relying on purchasing your own hardware at all times, you can use P2P to distribute and back-up your data across thousands of computers around the Internet or even computers inside your company's Intranet. Security issues are addressed with already existent cryptographic and security technology which ensures that while chunks of your backed-up data may physically reside across thousands of different computers, no one can snoop around your files for anything meaningful; and the backup technology can do the decoding and reassembly of data as you need them. A given file could be hosted (and copies and redundancies built-in) by 10, 200, or 10,000 individual computers, eliminating the need to concentrate spending on backup equipment or on bandwidth on a central location.
Instant Messaging Systems

AOL's and Yahoo's Instant Messenger, ICQ, and Microsoft's own instant messaging systems are only the start. There are good prospects for even more robust systems. One of these is Groove's "Rumor," the brainchild of Ray Ozzie, of Lotus Notes fame, which marries supercharged Instant Messaging with groupware (Lotus Notes) to create the uber collaborative product that is hyped up to take over the world by storm.

Software Updates

Already there are reports of McAfee and its ilk distributing anti-virus updates through P2P. P2P anti-virus updating sounds a lot like an oxymoron actually, since it raises whole new "viral" issues that the proposition is supposed to solve in the first place (like, isn't this going to work backward where virus makers are going to take advantage of the situation since this technology can be a new carrying mechanism where spreading their creations just becomes even easier?). But the proponents say that there are ways around this and this delivery method has sustainable merit.

Content Delivery

The example of a distributed news system mentioned above is only one of the many possibilities for this. Go beyond news and into articles, files and such. Already we've seen Napster take over the world (well ok, mostly with U.S. teenagers) this way. Connect this to other forms of content and once again the possibilities are endless.

Multi-Level Marketing

I'm personally not one for MLM, but I include this here because it makes for a worthwhile inclusion. MLM seems like a natural fit for P2P, and some people argue that Amway inherently has P2P built into its business. P2P technologies can further boost these existing operations because participants can use the infrastructure to better communicate and trade with each other, with the likes of Amway itself monitoring the exchanges and trades through the network, checking the progress through a string of members, and ensuring the content isn't changed.

Nicholas Mercader publishes the Business Models Insider Newsletter, a regular brainstorm about emerging new economy business models. The Business Model Insider, like our own Traffick Monthly, is one of Topica's featured Technology Channel newsletters.

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