Everyone remembers the halcyon days of peer-to-peer file sharing in the early 2000s. Whether it was downloading Limewire Pro from Limewire or destroying your computer with a .exe file that was supposed to be a Limp Bizkit album, those were innocent times in a world free from the horrors of Facebook and Twitter.
Since then, Morpheus, Limewire and the other peer-to-peer file sharing programs that helped destroy the music industry and create a generation of porn addicts have largely disappeared. But one company did survive – BitTorrent.
Poor messaging, utopian promises of a new internet and growing skepticism of the initial-coin-offering process meant that BitTorrent’s users, who are similar to crypto fanboys in being extremely vocal about their opinions, weren’t entirely pleased with the idea of Tron taking over.
A small exodus of staff didn’t help things either. Particularly damning were comments made by the company’s former Chief Strategy Officer. Simon Morris, who left the firm when Tron took over, said in an interview with BREAKER that the blockchain company is “a marketing machine layered on a very thin veneer of technology.”
Being the inquisitive bunch that we are here at Finance Magnates, we decided to get in touch with Tron and figure out what exactly is going on at the company. And luckily for us, we were able to sit down for an hour with Cliff Edwards, the company’s Communications Director, to discuss just that.
A new platform provider
Getting the ‘messy business’ out of the way first, I asked Edwards what he thought of Morris’ comments and, more importantly, whether there was any merit to them.
“We had said, very clearly, that we will be following an on-chain, off-chain model a week before that article was published,” said Edwards. “So I think [BREAKER] dropped the ball on that one. This is a guy that had a grudge against the company and that was fired half a year ago. He hasn’t seen anything that happened since the time that Tron took over BitTorrent.”
— Justin Sun (@justinsuntron) March 19, 2018
Despite what the skeptics may have said, Tron does appear to have made some progress in since it acquired the BitTorrent. Just this week, for instance, the firm successfully launched the BitTorrent token (BTT) and in the past month, Tron’s own token (TRX) has been listed on a number of respectable exchanges.
Still, the often imprecise language used by the company’s young CEO, Justin Sun, who says that he wants “to decentralise the internet,” often leaves people wondering; what is it that Tron actually wants to do?
“We’re a platform company,” said Edwards. “You look at Google or Apple, how do they describe themselves? They’re all of the above. Similarly, we’re more a facilitator of things. We want to reach out to developers and give them the platform to actualise their dreams.”
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Building a mousetrap
If Tron does succeed, it is likely to be because of their ability to connect with developers. Some ‘crypto enthusiast’ is almost certain to correct me here but it does appear as though the firm, having acquired BitTorrent, is alone amongst blockchain companies in having such a large built-in client base.
As Edwards was happy to remind me, BitTorrent is estimated to have 100 million active monthly users. Unlike a lot of other blockchain and crypto companies, it also has a proven product – people like to download files using BitTorrent and have done for almost two decades.
“Up until now, I think we’ve had a chicken and egg problem,” said Edwards. “Developers were interested in working on blockchain products but, with a couple of niche exceptions, there were no clients. We’ve brought some heft to the market and, because we’ve got a wide audience, developers are flocking to us.”
If that continues, it might create something of a domino effect. More developers could lead to more users which, in turn, could lead to more developers wanting to reach a wider audience. For Edwards, that’s entirely the point.
“When we started out, I don’t think we communicated well that we are trying to build this sort of mousetrap,” he said. “If you look at the success of the Android or iPhone app stores, there’s a circular effect where more users join and so more developers get on board. That’s the kind of model we’re looking to go for.”
The difference between the app store and Tron’s is, according to Edwards, the blockchain element. Decentralization in this context means handing more powers to developers and their end customers.
“There’s so many possibilities,” said Edwards. “For developers, it means massively reducing the 30 percent fee that you get charged by the big app stores. Tokenisation also allows you as a user to engage more. For instance, if you are playing a game, you could sell a rare item for Tron tokens and cash them out for fiat currency. That’s also appealing for developers as it allows you to create a more immersive experience.”
Another way in which the company plans to attract more customers is to start tokenizing BitTorrent. As noted, Tron has already launched a token specifically for the file sharing program.
In fact, this was probably the blockchain company’s biggest success of 2019 thus far. That’s because, when they went on sale on Tuesday, the new BitTorrent tokens sold out in under 15 minutes.
Leech, Seed, Cash out
The problem here is that most of the file sharing that occurs on BitTorrent is, to say the least, taking place in something of a legal grey area. It’s one thing to start receiving tokens for a home movie, quite another to make cash off of a pirated version of the latest James Bond movie.
“First off, we don’t condone that sort of thing,” said Edwards. “But secondly, you look at iTunes in its early days – its slogan was ‘Rip, Mix, Burn.’ That pissed off the music industry no end. But two or three years later that stopped and they started selling songs via iTunes. Ultimately they got people to pay because they had a solid system in place. In a similar way, I think, because we have a good product and good technology, we can bring legitimacy to this market.”
A comparison to Apple, with iTunes, Apple TV, and an app store seemed pretty grandiose. Does that mean we can expect Tron to be producing content a la Netflix, Spotify or iTunes in the future?
“It could be,” said Edwards. “Artists have shared their music via BitTorrent in the past. But I think we are probably five or ten years away from a movie studio saying, ‘hey, you’ve got a business model that works. Let’s do a distribution deal.’ Having said that, the fact we think it’s a possibility in the future shows you what we are going for. Our vision is longer term. If you are in this to get rich quick, you shouldn’t buy Tron. That’s also what 2019 is going to be about. We have to prove to everyone that there is method to all the madness.”
In a bearish cryptocurrency market, and with a host of naysayers ready to pounce on the company’s mistakes, it’s not going to be easy for Tron to make people believe that they’re the real deal. But with developers jumping on board and a huge client base at their disposal, it would be foolish to write them off just yet.