August 16, 2004 12:26 PM PDT

Supercharged college P2P project expands

I2hub, the supercharged file-swapping network that has run for months on the university Internet2 network, is aiming to solidify its hold on campuses, with new businesses targeted at students.

The I2hub founders have acquired a small online textbook exchange and are tying it into the file-swapping service, hoping that students will start reselling books to each other instead of using local bookstores. With this, and other similar student-focused services, they're aiming to turn the file-swapping traffic into a more traditional--and potentially profitable--hub of campus activities.

"We want to get away from the P2P image and more towards a student service," said Wayne Chang, a University of Massachusetts student who serves as the project's organizer. "I2hub is like the solid tree that leaf projects, like the book exchange, will spring from. Most other people in our space focus on the leaf projects, but they don't have a solid tree on campus."


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The campus project is following the well-worn path of file-swapping software companies such as Kazaa parent Sharman Networks, which also tried to turn the large audiences attracted by free peer-to-peer networks into a source of business revenue.

Sharman and other commercial ventures have focused on turning file-swapping networks themselves into an authorized distribution channel for music and video. But major music labels and Hollywood studios have adamantly refused to license their content for distribution through peer-to-peer networks.

I2hub arose early this year as an on-campus alternative to older swapping services such as Kazaa, offering speeds that far outstripped its rivals.

Many colleges in the United States and Europe allow student communications to default to the Internet2 network, which connects universities at speeds much higher than the ordinary Internet can provide. The I2hub software takes advantage of this to let students at participating universities swap files using this bandwidth bonanza.

As a result, students say they can download in as little as half an hour large video files that might take a day or longer to obtain over traditional file-sharing networks.

Some college administrators have expressed concern about the software, saying that the Internet2 network is intended for researchers and academic purposes that require large amounts of bandwidth. Many colleges have previously blocked transfers or sharply limited the bandwidth available to older file-trading software such as Kazaa.

However, no widespread crackdown on I2hub yet seems to have emerged.

The I2hub administrators say that students at 226 different universities around the world collectively spent more than 344,000 hours on the network last month. Their Web site displays graphs of bandwidth use at various universities, some of which show network traffic of more than 60 megabits per second across the service.

Chang said the book exchange will be aimed at matching textbook buyers and sellers on a given campus to make transactions easier. But the service also will facilitate payments between students at different universities.

Students will be able to search for textbooks they want through the P2P software or on the I2hub Web site. I2hub will take a small percentage of each transaction, Chang said. The group also plans other campus-based services such as dating and social networking.

Campuses have been the target of authorized music companies such as Napster and MusicNet over the last year. Napster has signed up eight campuses for its college program, in which students get heavily discounted access to its music subscription service. Similar offers from other online music companies are expected to start this fall.

The Recording Industry Association of America sued several students for operating campus file-swapping services last year, at least one of which used technology similar to I2hub. However, since a judge ruled that decentralized peer-to-peer services themselves were not illegal, the music industry has focused instead on suing individual swappers who are trading copyrighted music, including a long list of university students.

 

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