October 12, 2005

The Mojo Nation Story

[Guest post by Steve Schear] Mojo Nation was the brainchild of Jim McCoy (then formerly of Yahoo) and Doug Barnes (then formerly of C2Net). Their vision was a fully distributed peer-to-peer network with a financial mechanism that offered efficient cost recovery and discouraged the free-riding known to P2P people as leeching (a problem that continues to plague P2P).

The most radical element of MN was its method of pricing all activities in terms of network resources. It was also one of the first attempts at a P2P network using a fully distributed approach and a publishing versus a file sharing metaphor.

Unfortunately, MN was never fully operational. It never reached a point of deployment that allowed many of its novel architectural and technological assumptions, especially the mint, to be truly tested. It's not clear what economic lessons to draw from its operational vision, but here are some of the reasons behind its business failure:

  • MN failed because it failed to get continued funding. It only received seed money from its founder, Jim McCoy. MN was in development before Napster but its greater complexity caused a delayed public release. Jim had the foresight to thoroughly investigate the legal aspects of P2P and architecture MN to segregate tracking and file storage and distance itself from either. Nevertheless, Napster's negative publicity closed the door on VC funding and development beyond beta testing.
  • It failed because the UI never reached a point of maturity that enabled mostly automated meta-data tags (e.g., from mp3) to be generated from published content. This required users to tediously enter this data (and re-enter it when they were forced to republish, see below).
  • It failed because software instabilities prevented its distributed servers from accumulating and retaining enough content and becoming stable (network effects). This instability required constant, manual, republishing of content by users who soon fatigued (user churn).

The most notable result from MN was Bram's Bit Torrent. Though, as we saw, Bram failed to heed warnings (and discussion at MN) about protecting the trackers until the MPAA/RIAA were able to shut many down. Its been reported that many of these shortcomings have been fixed but I still can't seem to get Azureus (the most popular BT client) to work as expected with the distributed tracking. Since the demise of eDonkey, et al, due to the MGM vs. Grokster BT has been given a shot at reassuming the P2P leadership mantle. I hope it succeeds. Or perhaps P2P's next growth will have to wait until enough its users discover the advantages of an anonymizing transport layers, like TOR and I2P.


Addendum: see Part 2 from Jim McCoy himself.

Posted by iang at October 12, 2005 08:22 AM | TrackBack

Bram didn't fail to heed warnings about attacks on trackers; he knew about them full well and would frequently explain them to people who wanted to use BitTorrent for illegal activities. Bram, as I understand it, didn't believe in making any software design changes for the sole purpose of supporting illegality.

Posted by: Aaron Swartz at October 18, 2005 05:30 PM
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