October 17, 2000

Tropus: "Napster with Anonymity"

Author: JT Smith

By Tony Granata
News Editor

Last month, NewsForge published a story on the Freenet Project, a peer-to-peer network designed to allow the distribution of information over the Internet in an efficient manner, without fear of censorship. Recently, a Napster-like service called Tropus, being developed under the Freenet project, announced it will be ready for human consumption by Christmas.What's Freenet?

What makes Freenet unique is that it is completely decentralized, meaning that there is no person, computer, or organization in control of Freenet or essential to its operation. Unlike centralized services like Napster and MP3.com, which have been fighting lawsuits for distributing music files, Freenet allows for anonymous publication and retrieval of information, or in this case music files.

Information is passed between individual nodes, or computers, without identifying their source or destination, thereby protecting authors and readers anonymity and making it virtually impossible to forcibly remove a piece of information from Freenet.

What this means is that a user cannot be linked to the files they are sharing, making it impossible to track down a person who is responsible for the files existence, leaving groups like the Recording Industry Association of America unable to point the finger at whoever is responsible for what has been termed "promoting copyright infringements."

Tropus' initial planning stage

Tropus' homepage announces "The first major goal of the Tropus project is to deliver "Napster with anonymity, by Christmas 2000." Since Freenet already provides the critical networking and security functions, "Tropus has the potential to be Napster/Gnutella but with far better anonymity and scalability," states Will Dye, the main programmer behind Tropus "this creates a very real potential for tens of millions of users."

Tropus will be a client program for the Freenet distributed datastore. It will be designed for sharing digital
music files, though it could probably be used for pretty much any kind of file that's available on Freenet.

"The first order of business is to hash out some initial thoughts about what features we want to include or exclude," explains Dye. These features are being totaled through the site's Preliminary User Survey and discussed at the sites mailing list.

Other concerns, taken from the Tropus mailing list: "Although I like the idea of the project and would wish to help I'm not sure what it would offer that is not provided by Freenet and to what extent the two would interact. I, like many, have looked at the complexity of Freenet, some of my initial thoughts from a developers perspective would be the necessity of code documentation and specifications in fascist mode," wrote one person.

"Perhaps therefore someone should have the job of documenting ideas and concepts and ensuring code has comments/explanations. In other words, it should be possible for anyone interested to have a single initial point of entry for documentation and links. I hope that would enable people to go away and read, get up to speed and jump in. And also for people to bail out without sinking the project."

Tropus as a user-interface wrapper

With Freenet's networking and security functions already in place, the idea is to incorporate a simple user-interface "wrapper" around Freenet. The challenge is making Tropus friendly and stable enough to be used on the same scale as Napster, with tens of millions of users, mandating heavy emphasis on written specs, careful planning, functional prototypes, and automated testing. "One elegant way to solve the problem of
creating 'Napster with anonymity, by Christmas,'" surmises Dye, "is to simply convince Napster to adopt Freenet as its standard datastore. To a survival-minded organization, the entry of a new and powerful
competitor would be a cause for alarm. To Tropus, this would be called 'winning without firing a shot'".

To find out more information, visit the Web site, fill out the preliminary user survey, or join the mailing list.

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