This is an episode of Mad Men, incompletely downloaded from BitTorrent.
The video captures an episode of the popular TV show in the act of being shared by thousands of users on bittorent. The video simultaneously acts as a visualisation of bittorrent traffic and the practice of filesharing and is an aesthetically beautiful by product of the bittorrent process as the pieces of the original file are rearranged and reconfigured into a new transitory in-between state.
Must be something in the water today...Paul Boutin has a story on Slate today that makes the same point about BitTorrent, YouTube, and Google Video that I did this morning (although somewhat more succinctly and entertainingly):
The guys behind YouTube hit the sweet spot. Most important, they made it head-slappingly easy to publish and play video clips by handling the tricky parts automatically. Given up on BitTorrent because it feels like launching a mission to Mars? If you've sent an e-mail attachment, you've got the tech skills to publish on YouTube.
The final paragraph of the article contains this interesting bit:
The same Alexa plots that show MySpace and YouTube obliterating top sites reveal that Flickr, Digg and del.icio.us have plateaued with audiences barely bigger than Slate's. Photos, news, and other people's bookmarks just aren't as interesting as bootleg TV and checking out the hotties. The easier it gets to use, the less geeky the Net becomes, and the more it starts to look like real life.
Expect more bootleg TV and hotties from kottke.org in the future...I need some Alexa love.
The other day I realized that within my little online social circle, there's been a lot less mention of BitTorrent lately. It used to be that someone would link to a cool video, the site hosting the video file would go down because of high traffic, and then someone who grabbed the video before the outage would put it up on a torrent site so that everyone could see it again.
And then YouTube and Google Video came along. They offered free hosting and fast (free) bandwidth for videos so when people want to put some neat video of something on their sites, they just slapped it on YT or GV and pointed to it. And more important to the point about BitTorrent, they work completely within the browser environment. You upload videos to YT in the browser (GV has a standalone app for uploading) and the Flash-based viewer works in the browser (most Web users have Flash installed). They offered a seamless end-to-end solution to finding and watching videos all in one application.
Compare that with how you typically watch a video with BT. First you download a torrent file, then open that file up in your BT client (which you need to have previously downloaded and installed), then the file downloads, and finally you open that file in a media player, generally QuickTime, Windows Media Player, or some other player that needs to be downloaded and installed...and hopefully you have the right versions and codecs for the video in question. And that's just the viewing side of things...publishing videos via BT was even more difficult, particularly for non-technical folks.
That BitTorrent took off at all is a testament to the utility of downloading files from multiple sources simultaneously, but it's also telling that once an easier-to-use alternative came along that offered many of the key advantages of BT, people switched1...and really quickly too. Eventually BT will have to find its way into the browser (AllPeers is promising a Firefox extension that will do just that) and somehow overcome the multiple media players problem in order to find success.
 For videos of the type I'm talking about anyway. BT is by no means unpopular these days, particularly for feature-length movies, lossless music files, and other really large files. YT and GV are only taking BT's "marketshare" in the realm of short video. ↩