Rightly or wrongly, when you think of BitTorrent, you usually think of piracy. But with Project Maelstrom, BitTorrent is aiming to leverage its peer-to-peer file distribution technology to the very web itself, creating a browser that downloads webpages not from a central server, but from other people who have visited the site. And it’s almost as much of a data viz as it is a browser.
To explain how Project Maelstrom works, BitTorrent put up a great graphic explainer. Project Maelstrom uses BitTorrent’s magnet links to find copies of a webpage across its peer-to-peer network. BitTorrent works by sharing bandwidth; everyone is uploading the parts of a file they have to everyone else in the swarm, while downloading the parts they don’t. In the old days of BitTorrent, you had to download a torrent file from a tracker to get a list of all the other people who were currently torrenting it. These days, though, you can click on a magnet link, which automatically finds all the other people who are currently torrenting a certain file.
As BitTorrent explains, magnet links work sort of like finding a person at a huge party: you just ask. You bump into one person, then ask them if they’ve seen your friend. If they haven’t, you keep asking. Eventually, you might find someone who knows where your friend is, or just knows someone they think might know where he is. Ask enough people, and you’ll eventually find your friend.
That’s the way Project Maelstrom finds a website. If Fast Company was a distributed website, and packaged as a torrent, it’ll use this exact same process to find people around the world also running Project Maelstrom who have little bits and pieces of Fast Company still on their computers. They’ll seed what they have to you. It’s a faster approach that also helps prevent web servers from being crushed by extreme traffic.
What’s cool about Project Maelstrom is that it’s not just a web browser, but it’s also a data visualization of how a torrent is being served to you. If you want to see it in action, you can download the Windows beta here.