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TECHNOLOGY: The BitTorrent Effect

The next really disruptive technology is already here, but most people don’t know about it. Torrents were mentioned at a health care IT conference I went to last June and no one there other than the geek presenting knew what they were. This article in Wired called The BitTorrent Effect explains. They’re essentially a way of sharing huge files relatively quickly between lots of people. Everyone downloading a file is also uploading parts of it. So the more people (or computers) sharing the file the faster you can download it. I’ve become an avid user of torrents to download soccer matches. It takes about 2-4 hours to download a game (around about a gig). I don’t know if there’s copyright on the games, but as they’re not being broadcast where I live, to me it’s the equivalent of someone else lending me a video tape of the game straight after it’s been shown. Hollywood is rightfully terrified that this will be a version of Napster, with people putting movies up on the web, others downloading them and DVD sales plummeting. But the Wired article suggests that there’s a much greater change going on, with the ability for virtually anyone to start developing their own content, and then to use the web for distribution.

I haven’t really figured out a health care angle on this yet other than moving very large files around asynchronously is probably of interest to radiologists. But like blogging software, and the web itself, this is another example of a fast-moving technology changing the way things are done and the way information is distributed. So continue to pay attention, and email me if you want to know how to access those soccer games!

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