WeWork making cuts; Fadell leaves Nest; BitTorrent spins out Sync

All sorts of changes going on:

  • WeWork plans to cut around 7% of its staff, according to Bloomberg’s Ellen Huet, and has paused hiring. The $16B coworking/coliving startup raised $430 million a few months ago led by Chinese investors, and plans to expand in Asia. It seems that WeWork might be responding to the advice of many investors to cut back on burn as the economy seems to be cooling.
  • Tony Fadell has left Nest following months of bad press and growing friction within Alphabet/Google, which acquired the company in 2014 for $3.2 billion. Positioned as a ‘transition’, the move is more likely the case of Fadell being pushed out. The new Nest CEO is Marwan Fawaz, who was a Motorola Mobility executive vice president, and who oversaw the sell off of that company after Google’s acquisition of Motorola. Looks like Alphabet/Google is positioning Nest for a sale, since Google’s developed its own line of smart home products that don’t play nice with Nest’s technologies.
  • BitTorrent has spun out Sync, its file sync and share technology, into a new firm, Resilio, and Sync will be renamed as Connect. Former BitTorrent CEO Eric Klinker will be heading up the new company, after trying to repositioning BitTorrent as an enterprise software company. It now seems the existing BitTorrent company will focus on a new live streaming app.

BitTorrent officially launches Sync 2.0 with $40 pro tier

BitTorrent officially launched Sync 2.0 Tuesday, taking the next step toward turning the P2P-based file backup and synchronization tool into a real business. Sync 2.0 comes with a pro tier that offers users more fine-grained access control for folders and other advanced features for $39.99 a year. Users can test the pro features for a month for free, or still use basic Sync functionality without the need to pay anything. BitTorrent first announced and previewed the Pro tier of Sync last November.

David Cross launches his new movie as pay-what-you-want download

Filmmaker and comedian David Cross premiered his new movie at Sundance, but didn’t like any of the distribution deals offered by major studios, so he decided to give the film directly to fans as a pay-what-you want BitTorrent bundle, backed by a Kickstarter campaign

Thom Yorke made as much as $20M from his BitTorrent experiment

As part of its mission to convince the music industry that it isn’t just for copyright infringers, BitTorrent launched a new product in 2013 called “Bundles,” which allow musicians and other artists to combine free downloads with paid products. One of the most high-profile figures to experiment with this feature last year was Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke, who used it for his new album — and not only did he become the most legally-downloaded BitTorrent artist in 2014, but he may have made as much as $20 million.

What makes those kinds of numbers even more impressive is that Yorke didn’t launch his album bundle, called Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes, until the end of September. By October — according to a comment on Twitter from an editor with Billboard magazine — the bundle had already been downloaded over 4 million times, and a year-end retrospective from BitTorrent says that the total number of downloads was 4.4 million.

When he released the album, Yorke said in a statement that he hoped the bundle would become an alternative to traditional music releases for more artists, saying it could prove to be “an effective way of handing some control of internet commerce back to people who are creating the work [and] bypassing the self elected gate-keepers.”

Thom Yorke BitTorrent bundle

The paid portion of the bundle, which included seven songs, cost $6 to download — meaning the total amount of revenue generated by the project could be as high as $26 million. Since BitTorrent gives 90 percent of the income from its bundles to the artist, that means Yorke could have made almost $24 million from the album. That’s far more than he likely would have made releasing it using almost any other traditional method.

Unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple, as a number of music-industry watchers have pointed out: the $26-million revenue figure assumes that everyone who downloaded the bundle paid for it. But bundles also include free downloads — in Yorke’s case, a song and a video. And BitTorrent allows the artist to decide whether to release the exact breakdown of free vs. paid, something that Yorke has chosen not to do, according to BitTorrent’s head of content strategy Straith Schreder.

Whatever the actual breakdown of paid vs. free is, however, more than 4 million downloads is still a big number, and if even half of those who downloaded it paid $6 for the bundle then Yorke still made a substantial amount of revenue with very little overhead. It certainly makes BitTorrent’s bundle program look pretty good compared with other distribution methods such as iTunes, which takes a 30-percent cut of the proceeds.

Update: Glenn Peoples of Billboard magazine estimates that Yorke probably made between $1 million and $6 million on his album, based on the likely number of people who paid for it rather than just getting the free track. The low number is based on the proportion of users who pay for Pandora.

BitTorrent is building a decentralized web browser

BitTorrent is taking the next step on its quest to decentralize all the things: The company launched an invite-only private alpha test for a P2P-based web browser called Project Maelstrom Wednesday. BitTorrent CEO Eric Klinker announced the project with a blog post, which reads in part:

“It started with a simple question. What if more of the web worked the way BitTorrent does? Project Maelstrom begins to answer that question with our first public release of a web browser that can power a new way for web content to be published, accessed and consumed. Truly an Internet powered by people, one that lowers barriers and denies gatekeepers their grip on our future.”

Project Maelstrom will serve up web pages directly from its users’ computers, much in the same way that BitTorrent’s file sharing technology distributes files without the need for a central server. I asked a spokesperson for additional technical details, and got this as a response:

“It works on top of the BitTorrent protocol. Websites are published as torrents and Maelstrom treats them as first class citizens instead of just downloadable content. So if a website is contained within a torrent we treat it just like a normal webpage coming in over HTTP.”

Maelstrom 2

This means that Project Maelstrom essentially aims to build a completely separate, P2P-powered web that can only be accessed through the browser.

That’s an ambitious feat, but there are also numerous legal and logistical issues that could make it challenging for BitTorrent to turn Maelstrom into a product. For example, one could imagine that Maelstrom’s users might try to resurrect a site like the Pirate Bay, which was just taken down by Swedish police, in a distributed fashion.

Vuze adds Chromecast support to its Android BitTorrent client

BitTorrent, meet Chromecast: Vuze has added Google Cast support to its Android torrent client, making it possible to beam a media file to the TV right after a download has finished. To my knowledge, this is the first time anyone has integrated cast capability into a BitTorrent app, and it should make the life of Vuze users that also own a Chromecast adapter or one of Google’s new Nexus players a little easier. However, the feature isn’t available for Vuze’s desktop client, because Google hasn’t released a cast SDK for native desktop apps yet.

BitTorrent Sync 1.4 is released

BitTorrent Sync is a peer-to-peer file sync and share tool that leverages the BitTorrent protocol. Because of its decentralized architecture, it’s an effective means of rapidly distributing very large files.

The company has announced the release of version 1.4, which is still a beta version, but which is featuring some large improvements over 1.3. And the company also states that since the alpha launch last year the company has had 10 million user installs and transferred over 80 petabytes of data.

The major improvements are centered on usability and simplicity. One feature new for 1.4 is the use of links to share without the recipient even having to have an existing account. Once they receive the link — by email, QR code, or other communication channel — the recipient only has to click the link and BitTorrent handles the next steps.

BitTorrent-Sync-1.4-3

The advanced options include controls on how long a link is usable, how many times it can be used, and management of peering access (shown at the bottom). This last control allows the user to require that all files syncing come from the originating device, and not from other peers with whom they have been shared with.

BitTorrent-Sync-1.4-5

The earlier Keys approach of giving access to folders is still available (formerly called Secrets), but this is remarkably simple.

The UI for v1.4 is much cleaner and easier to use, including a customizable folder list to show the metadata of interest to you.

BitTorrent-Sync-1.4-2

 

v1.4 is available now for Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux, and mobile clients will be updated quickly.

As I wrote in the recent Roadmap on File Sync and Share,

BitTorrent Sync is in another special niche. The product relies on the BitTorrent protocol — an encrypted peer-to-peer service where, after authentication, files are synced and shared directly from one device to another — without passing through the BitTorrent server. This makes transfer of large files much faster, and since no copies are made on a cloud server the possibility of those documents being subject to a government inquiry or some other sort of disclosure is low, or even zero.

And this special niche is one that 80 petabytes have passed through already.