I was on a podcast sometime last month and the host, Jorge, asked me a fascinating question, "How are these other peer-to-peer networks different from blockchains?"

I got intrigued. When I spent a minute thinking about it, I realized that all the moving parts in blockchain - peer-to-peer networks and cryptography - existed even years earlier. What made blockchains different was that it attached money to the peer to peer network.

Before blockchains, the most famous peer-to-peer protocol was BitTorrent. What if we attach money to it too?

Power of Incentives

The surest way to make people take desirable actions is to incentivize those activities. It is a no-brainer, isn't it? But turns out, most of us in the technology, including myself, didn't understand its power before bitcoin happened.

"The rabbit runs faster than the fox, because the rabbit is running for his life while the fox is only running for his dinner." — R. Dawkins

Incentives make people put hundreds of computers at work to power a blockchain network. Blockchain is not a new technology; it is the same old technology with economic incentives attached to it. It is immutable not just because of the technology but also the economics. It'll be economically costly to not work along with other strangers.

Satoshi Nakamoto was able to figure out incentives in a decentralized network the best. At this point, you might be asking, "But torrents are going on for years, and there are no incentives there. How come?"

There are. Just not economic ones. A friend of mine is a serial seeder (if that's any word; I just made it up) who seeds torrents day and night. He spends money, electricity and time just seeding torrents. "Why?" I asked. He replied, "We deserve this digital shit for free, bro. I am helping the community."

That day I realized that such people have another incentive - quenching the thirst of the heart. They do it because they believe they are helping people out. More they help the community, more reputation they earn from the members. Incentives are always at work.

What if seeders could make some money?

It got me thinking that there could be made an ecosystem around torrents where contributions and incentives are recorded on the blockchain. If a seeder contributes something, he/she earns some tokens of the network. To download a seeded torrent, you'll need to pay in the same token.

Everyone in the community would be contributing to earn some tokens, and the leechers would be paying to download the seeded content. Torrents themselves are very tiny files, which can be kept on the blockchain itself if need be.

Quality over quantity

When I shared this idea with a friend, he asked me, "So, basically to earn some tokens, I can seed any random junk file. There will be a lot of unwanted content on the network then."

I immediately replied, "But if there's no one to pay and download on the other side, how come the seeder makes any money. In fact, there would be less garbage because no one is incentivized to seed unwanted content."

To which, he asked a very interesting question, "Basically, now seeders are not simply helping. The leechers would have to pay to get the content. But then they can pay for it to the legitimate sources to get it."

It left me thinking a minute at least before I could reply, "The currency that leechers would have to pay can be earned by simply contributing to the network itself. More you contribute, more you're rewarded. This difference with the fiat currencies make it a self-sustained economic model."

Conclusion

There can exist a network where people who contribute to torrents can get rewarded for their contribution besides just a reputation in the system.

The thing that I am most worried about is the legality of such a network. If you happen to build it, distribution of a copyright material might not be something that you'd want it happening in the network.

What are you thoughts?


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