The End of Bittorrents for My Podcast?

In the first month or two of this podcast (way back in fall of 2004) I did an experiment of publishing episodes of my show as bittorrent files and putting them in a special feed for that. At the time, most or all of the podcatchers anyone was using supported bittorrent. The experiment was so successful that a month later I made my default feed the bittorrent feed, which is the way it has been ever since.

When iTunes was released without bittorrent downloading support, that took a big portion of the wind out of the sails of this whole project. Prior to the release of that version of iTunes, I was moving thousands of copies of each show via bittorrent. Today, I’m moving dozens. When iTunes basically crushed the standalone podcatcher market, that killed bitorrent. I kept fighting the good fight though, mainly for political reasons. I wanted to prove there were legitimate uses for torrent technology and by keeping my default distribution that way, I thought I could serve as a counter-example to the meme that torrent traffic == content theft.

It cost me in some ways, large and small. I’ve wanted to use the PodPress plugin to ease my management woes but never could get it to work properly with my torrents, so I’ve never used it. The iTunes directory has always had my direct bittorrent feed in their database, so I had to write a customer .htaccess rule to make my web server swap out the MP3 feed when iTunes was the user agent. To this day, they’ve never fixed that and I had to hack to make my show work with iTunes. My management and workflow is always more difficult, directories sometimes have a hard time dealing with my torrents, etc.

This morning, I found an MP3 trading site that was using my tracker to trade their files. That was the second to last straw. I shut the tracker down and set about looking for ways to restrict the tracker to only use my files. I wanted to clamp down on publishing but let anyone freely download, which isn’t exactly what the private trackers are about. As I dug around, I went to the main Bittorrent site. The scruffy ugly site Bram Cohen put up is no longer there. I was looking for documentation on configuring my tracker, and what I found was a corporate site about getting big media content more easily. Is this what I’m fighting my fight for? It’s pretty much the opposite of what I care about.

My tracker is down right now. I’m strongly considering never turning it back on, installing Podpress and just going forth on my merry way. If someone can come up with a good technical solution for me to secure the tracker the way I want and a good political reason why I should care anymore about this site whose agenda is how to let you buy shit from big media, I’d love to hear it. Drop me a comment. If I haven’t changed my mind by the time I publish my next show, I’ll begin the process of de-torrenting this site completely. My mind is open to being changed and I welcome that possibility but at this moment it isn’t how the smart money bets.

Update: I wrote this in a hurry on the way out of town, or I would have paused for a minute to thank all of you who used the bittorrent feed despite it being less convenient to you in general. In particular, I think Neil Forker is a hall of famer for continuing to use the torrent feed with Juice even though he used iTunes for everything else he subscribed to. That’s wonderful and humbling that someone would run that client solely for me to help me out. It’s truly touching. That’s the ultimate sad part about shutting down the torrents, choosing to use a torrent is by its nature a generous choice that ties us together more than just downloading a file from a website. Thanks to all of you who have been seeding for years and going out of your way to share your bandwidth via the torrents. I love you all.

Bittorrent Plugin for iTunes

The author dropped me a note letting me know about this plugin to Bittorrent support to iTunes podcasts. This allows you to not only download torrented podcasts but to seed them as well. It is currently Windows only, but OS X support is in the plan. If you are a developer who wants to help move that along, you might should jump aboard. I’ve kept my support for Bittorrent mainly for political reasons. In spring of 2005, over 90% of my downloads came via the torrents. Nowadays, it’s more like 5%. iTunes killed it, so it would be nice to see people be able to breathe a little life back into it.

More on iTunes

This iTunes support of podcasting thing is slowly sinking in. Since almost the beginning here, I could make the assumption that the vast majority of podcatching clients supported Bittorrent. Unless some heroic Apple engineer puts in support and quick, that assumption is going to change when iTunes does their thing.

Everything I’ve seen has unquestioningly been on the side that this is good for podcasting, but I’m not sure that it will be. Over and over, almost since the very beginning people have been making these statements that “what podcasting needs to be really popular is X”. That’s not been my focus. Like I’ve been saying in the podcasts, explosive growth just for the sake of it is not a good thing in my opinion. I’ve never felt that we had to be in a hurry here. While there is a coolness to the notion that my listenership might go up in a big hurry, it also has the potential of being an unintentional denial of service attack. I’ve liked the pace things have been growing at, which allowed the tool creators and the podcasters and everyone to build and figure out how to do things.

I’ve built up the Bittorrent infrastructure because of its sustainability and ability to grow over time without killing the server box or using too much bandwidth. Putting out a tool that can bring in an assload of listeners but without using that infrastructure is not necessarily doing me a favor. If it goes like I think it might, I’m going to be including a short MP3 in my feed begging iTunes users to get a tool that supports Bittorrent like every major one has up to this point.