The use of BitTorrent with RSS has been getting some attention lately, but there have been so many feed-related ideas tossed around recently that it’s hard to tell which ones have any merit. For the record, I believe this one is very worthwhile. But before we jump into why BitTorrent is so useful here, perhaps a little background is necessary?
It all starts with enclosures, which provide a way to link multimedia files with items in an RSS feed. For example, this feed from IT Conversations uses enclosures to link to MP3 audio files. RSS readers such as FeedDemon often display enclosures in a manner resembling email attachments, but unlike email attachments, enclosures aren’t automatically downloaded until you click on them.
Enclosures were a neglected part of RSS 2.0 until podcasting came along. Podcasting refers to tools which automatically download RSS enclosures and synchronize them with a portable media player such as an Apple iPod. For example, you might tell your RSS reader to automatically download audio enclosures overnight and sync them with your iPod, so that when you get up in the morning you can grab your iPod and listen to all the new stuff on the way to work. It’s still very rough around the edges, and there’s a lot of unnecessary hype about podcasting being tossed around, but it’s an interesting concept which I believe will grow into something far more useful (and usable).
But there’s a big problem: bandwidth. RSS has been blamed for consuming too much bandwidth, and RSS is just text. So how can multimedia files possibly be distributed the same way? The answer is BitTorrent. When you download a torrent file, BitTorrent shares the bandwidth consumption between everyone who downloads that file. The more people that download a torrent file, the more bandwidth there is available.
In a stroke of good timing, last week I spent some time integrating support for torrents into FeedDemon’s support for podcasting. At the moment it’s too unreliable to expose, and I’ve had trouble automating BitTorrent to do what I want, but given how “alpha” the whole idea of BitTorrent enclosures is, I don’t believe it’s important that FeedDemon supports them right away. However, I do believe it’s important that I announce my intentions to do so. Which I’ve just done :)