published Friday, July 16th, 2010

Jenkins: Reader mailbag addresses P2P networking, the rise of Google

by Donnie Jenkins

This week we look at peer-to-peer file sharing, Google’s social network, and some sore texting thumbs as we catch up with a few reader e-mails.

Q: What is P2P?

A: P2P, or peer-to-peer, networking usually connects two or more computers with a server that controls the traffic between them. The original Napster music service was a great example of this, at least until the record industry shut it down.

Here’s how it worked: You would sign up for the service. Then each time you would go online, a server or central computer would tally the MP3 songs on your computer, as well as those on all the other members’ computers online, and allow each person to download desired songs from anyone who had them on their hard drive.

While this may sound a bit confusing, it was actually beautifully simple and easy. I would love to see a legitimate and legal service that worked exactly as Napster did, as it was perfectly designed.

The current version of Napster is excellent but works in a totally different way.

Q: I read that Google is getting into the social networking business to compete with Facebook and Twitter, but is this really possible? Facebook is huge now. I just don’t see how anyone can outdo them.

A: My favorite quote I use over and over in these situations is: I have seen enough to know I have seen too much.

First of all, Google should never be dismissed prematurely from any market it enters, even if it stumbles at first. The company has huge financial assets and a dedicated team of brilliant people.

Second, the very property that makes Facebook so successful can be the most dangerous aspect of its business at times. The company is willing to turn on a dime, so to speak, to change features and goals quickly and suddenly without notice. You may recall the recent flap over the sudden and confusing privacy settings, as well as several other incidents throughout Facebook’s history.

Some online writers believe that the recent privacy issue may have slowed the company’s growth for the first time, although it does not appear to have caused the loss of many members. Facebook would do well to remember MySpace and others who paved the way and are now in trouble or gone.

Q: I literally hate texting on a cell phone but have to do it to respond to messages throughout the day. I have never learned to type, and my thumbs just wear out. Any tips or advice?

A: Well, I would absolutely encourage everyone to learn to touch-type, as it is almost an essential skill in using computers these days, but tiny cell-phone keyboards are another matter.

There is, however, a brilliant little application called Swype that lets you glide or swipe from letter to letter on an on-screen keyboard, making texting a bit more fun and much easier. It is becoming available on more phones all the time. In fact, my feature requirements for my next cell phone will include this little jewel.

But not everyone agrees that this app is all that great. The New York Times’ David Pogue appears to dislike it and doesn’t see how it can speed up texting at all. Whether or not it increases speed, it certainly relieves muscle tension in pressing those tiny keys, and that alone is appealing to me.

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