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More on Evolution and Software Family Trees

October 23, 2009

I had an interesting email discussion with Ernesto (the Editor-in-Chief of TorrentFreak) about my last post on the blog and thought I’d reproduce some of it here (with his permission of course!)…

Ernesto: Is the graph on your blog the complete tree, or will more client be added?

Me: This is a beta of my data – I would look to add more as time goes on!

Ernesto: What type of feedback are you looking for at the moment?

Me: Well on my blog I have published the spreadsheet I used to generate this family trees – I would love a story about the research and hope to get feedback on missing client software, corrected dates, new dates where I am missing data, any links between the source code of projects that I don’t yet have covered and also general feedback on the method.

Another important point with this research is that if, as I suspect it to be the case, p2p works on the basis of evolutionary principles then the efforts by those trying to stop p2p technology, far from either stopping or slowing it, are actually helping the development of the technology.  Yes this would mean the end (extinction?) of some clients and protocols, but those that survive are stronger and harder to stop and so the cycle grows.

Ernesto:  How do you define evolutionary principles? Using code? Does there have to be progress, adaptation or added value?  I’m not really convinced that the evolutionary principles are used to improve the clients, the originals are often better..

Good question – I am using the source code as akin to the DNA of a biological species, but in essence I think the process is the almost the same as we see in nature; each generation of client is a modified version and thus is descent though modification, new clients based on the source code of other projects act as speciation and the choices of the users of what to use/support acts as a form of selection – all the ingredients for evolution.

Where the source-code is important is that it acts as a marker via which we can measure change.  While lots of other researches have suggested that evolution works on technology, source-code gives us something more that just our impressions about a technology – it gives us it’s DNA!

Another important point is that evolution is blind; it does not make value judgements – it just is.  So as individuals we do make value judgements but as a mass of users the decisions become a kind of crow-sourced selection that is for all intents and purposes, blind.  So what comes might be better or worse than what has gone, but the point is that it an adaptation to suit the time and place.

Getting some feedback on this data would be invaluable to me making this idea a strong concept that can be taken forward!

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