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CodeCon The technology behind the next generation of file sharing legal battles was unveiled at CodeCon today. Brandon Wiley describes Alluvium as "Peer to Peer radio" - which it is, but it also blurs the distinction between streaming and downloading once and forever.

So what is it? To begin with, Alluvium "streams" Ogg. It's an umbrella project that uses some existing technologies - such as Tornado's swarm downloading - with the initial goal of providing a better IceCast than IceCast.

"It offers between 10 per cent and 90 per cent bandwidth savings," says Wiley. The worst case for Alluvium is Icecast - always going to be better than IceCast."

With distributed "swarm" downloading technologies such as BitTorrent and Tornado - which has half a million users already - it's possible for hundreds of users to download a file without hammering the server. They take advantage of the under-used uplink capacity of your net connection to upload portions of the file to another user. So when you download a file from a given location, you're actually getting it from many other users in chunks.

The upshot is that Alluvium needs much lower server overhead for the broadcaster than conventional streaming technologies. In fact it would be possible to run it from a Sharp Zaurus PDA, reckons Wiley, because all it needs to act as a server is httpd.

[There's a technical overview here]. I learned some interesting details, such as Wiley designed it to use random ports to avoid P2P - something he learned from his experience working on FreeNet.

Now why, you're wondering, would this prompt legal issues? Well, there's an explicit distinction at the moment between streaming (which the RIAA thinks is OK, so long as the broadcasters pay royalties) and downloading (which is not OK under any circumstances). Technically they're similar in that both Alluvium and {insert your favorite streaming player here} leave stub files in the cache which they delete after the session has finished.

But Alluvium is a streaming technology that uses file downloading techniques. So some legal clarification will need to be made.

I liked Brandon's idea of running Alluvium on a PDA. I very much like the idea of each phone being a personal short-range station (see Apple's 'BluePod' - promiscuous exchanges with strangers ) and it turns out that like me, he's waiting for a Bluetooth-enabled MP3 player before making his purchase. (Are you listening, Apple? That's two potential iPod buyers who need Bluetooth.)

It uses various bits of software, but grabs them all itself: and as the client is a slick Java WebStart package, you always grab the most up to date version. But as Brandon says, "if you want to write it in C, submit a patch".

His motivation for Alluvium was that conventional streaming models limit the rate at which people can download to the rate at which the media can play content back. And he didn't like the existing P2P radio because "the tree-based model sucks".

Future plans are for integrating other content retrieval mechanisms into the framework.

"It would be nifty to spider the web or Google the web for creative commons licensed work," says Wiley. "Or security patches".

And you can support Alluvium by donating to the Foundation for Decentralization Research, here.

And CodeCon continues tomorrow. ®

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