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Human P2P Networks

January 16, 2010

Defining what a network is, is a huge topic.  It is one I engage with to some extent in my research and you can boil a network down to two components – links and nodes.  The beginnings and ends of the network is a more complex matter.  For example with the Internet, it is less one big network and more a series of networks united by common protocols.  (There is a good discussion of mapping networks using Actor-Network Theory in chapter 4 of Murdoch’s book Post-Structuralist Geography.  But networks are also more than just wires or WiFi linkages; Bannister (2000) coined a term I like to use for the people in a network;

“Networked media are like a coral reef in that there is no centre or core.  If one cell dies, it doesn’t affect the whole.  Individual humanodes within the telacorpus act of their own volition, or at least they think they do.  The collective of humanodes forms the ‘reef’ of the telacorpus, but unlike natural corals, each humanode can connect to any other.” (Bannister 2000:115)

This term – humanode – came to mind recently reading an article on the next battle ground over piracy, off-line file sharing;

The Strategic Advisory Board for Intellectual Property (Sabip), a body set up to advise the government, has been looking into “offline” copyright infringement after its research last year into online piracy threw up questions about how consumers get films, music and games for free. “There’s a whole big question here around what is happening offline digitally, the swapping of discs and data in that world. There’s a lot of it going on,” said Sabip board member Dame Lynne Brindley. Brindley, chief executive of the British Library, said existing research did not give a clear picture of consumer behaviour. While there was some data on the proportion of people buying counterfeit CDs, DVDs and video games – estimated at between 7% and 16% of the population – Sabip was concerned that more needed to be known about other copyright breaches, such as hard-drive swapping and files being shared by wireless Bluetooth connections.

Again, technology is enabling this process to occur easier and faster – you can get 300+Gb portable hardrives that don’t need an external power supply and are about the size of an iPhone.  Easy to carry, easy to connect and given that most films on p2p networks seems to be under 1Gb – there is plenty of space.  What is means is that the person becomes both a node and a connection – more than a humanode.  While this is less distributed that online p2p as the geographic boundaries are once more an issue – it shows that there are multiple paths that a p2p network uses and again going into the issues of the technical difficulties of stopping copying (see here and here).

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