Peer-to-peer technology may be best known as the bane of the music and movie industries on the Internet, but P2P tech has a number of uses that don’t involve infringing on copyright or risking a lawsuit from the RIAA—think about Skype, which relies on P2P communication, or BitTorrent’s above-board media distribution business. Another interesting aspect of peer-to-peer technology is that its decentralized nature can make it difficult for government authorities, regulators, and censors to shut down—and that may be one of the reasons why the World Wide Web Consortium—responsible for developing standards like HTML and HTTP that drive the Web—has set up a new working group that, among other things, will be looking to develop a standard for peer-to-peer communications between browsers. The technology would enable P2P applications to run inside a Web browser without plug-ins or additional downloads, and would be able to traverse hurdles like firewalls and NAT gateways.
The new Web Real-Time Communications Working Group has other things on its plate too, including API functions to enable Web browser to tap into devices like microphones, devices, and speakers, as well as provide a standard set of API functions for stream processing (including echo cancellation and stream synchronization). However, the peer-to-peer components might be the most interesting, because they would enable Web users to exchange information, files, data, live streams, and virtually any other digital content without the use of intervening third-party services, whether that be a traditional Web server, a service like Twitter or Facebook, or an application like Skype. In addition to empowering new types of applications, the peer-to-peer technology could make it more difficult for governments and censors to suppress communications. ISPs could still detect peer-to-peer streams and shut them down, but the process wouldn’t be as simple as, say, putting up a firewall that blocks Facebook.
Norway’s Opera began integrating peer-to-peer technology into its browser back in 2009.
The group hopes to have standards reach full recommendation status by the first quarter of 2013.