There are two big differences between Napster-style file-sharing and subscription music streaming like Rhapsody and Spotify. The first is that unauthorized file-sharing is, you know, unauthorized. Ad hoc sharing on peer-to-peer platforms infringes copyright, harms musicians to some degree (to an extent argued over the last 15 years), and can get you sued by media owners (although not as likely as it used to be). The second difference is that file-sharing hooks into the desire to own units of music, as opposed to accessing libraries of music. Local storage is losing ground to cloud availability as subscription platforms gain traction.
Streamza, a startup built on the BitTorrent file-sharing backbone, attempts to merge the two consumer priorities in a loop-closing service that locates, downloads, and streams music and video content. Technology like this is not entirely new, and has been built into some BitTorrent clients in the past — those are the programs which pop up to negotiate the peer relationships needed to grab pieces of a file from the collective of sharing computers, and stitch them together on the downloading computer. During the grab-and-stitch, they start streaming the content to the impatient person tapping his fingers waiting for the file to arrive.
But Streamza differentiates by creating a platform-agnostic service that integrates the BitTorrent process in a way that emphasizes the streaming part, shoving the download handshaking into the background, and putting out an experience that resembles a streaming music subscription. Streamza aims to distribute on all the usual operating systems — currently on the web, as a Chrome app, and purportedly in iOS (although a search for Streamza in Apple’s app store this morning came up empty).
BitTorrent is merely a technology — neutral in all ways and perfectly legal, like mp3. But a first-timer to the Streamza web site can discern immediately that this is an unauthorized service, thanks to the “DMCA Requests” link at the bottom of the home page. That’s like a badge that says, “Hey, don’t blame us.” An infringement-free application of Streamza technology could conceivably be applied to BitTorrent.com, a fully authorized walled garden that offers innovative distribution opportunites for content owners who want the efficiency of peer-to-peer distribution. As it sits now, Streamza is offering a broadly accessible way of enhancing the file-sharing experience, bringing faster gratification to the unregulated P2P realm.