Facebook to feature file-sharing device

by Jessica Chen | 11/16/04 6:00am

The creators of thefacebook.com have recently released a new, highly-anticipated addition to their popular college student network to Harvard and Stanford University students. Wirehog, a direct user-to-user file-sharing program, offers hope to all student file sharers who have been fearful under the shadow of the Recording Industry Association of America and Motion Picture Association of America litigation.

Wirehog, which creator Mark Zuckerberg said will be available at Dartmouth sometime this week, allows "friend networks" from thefacebook.com to share personal photos and other media files with each other, in a way that seems to circumvent the monitoring methods employed by the RIAA and the MPAA.

Unlike more common file-sharing programs such as Kazaa and Gnutella, whose users have been the targets of recent lawsuits, direct file searching is not available through Wirehog. Users connect directly to their friends' computers and can only access files already designated for sharing.

The RIAA and MPAA pursue illegal file sharers by connecting to peer-to-peer networks and searching for specific movie or music files owned by their members. Once a user is found sharing such illegal files, the RIAA or MPAA download the offending file, make a note of the user's Internet Protocol address and choose whether or not to pursue a lawsuit against the individual.

Such methods would be much more difficult with a program like Wirehog. According to Zuckerberg, currently a junior at Harvard, the program should not be considered a file-sharing program.

"It's not a file-sharing program in the traditional sense," he said. "The experience is a little different. It's about seeing what your friends have. It's much more social."

While Dartmouth does not condone file sharing of copyrighted material, Computing Services does not monitor network activity in order to respect students' privacy, said Robert Donin, Dartmouth's general counsel, in an interview last week.

"I would encourage people to use legal providers [of copyrighted material]," he said, citing online music and movie websites for file sharing purposes, as opposed to peer-to-peer programs.

The Wirehog application is actually more similar to the file sharing available through instant messaging programs. Instant messenger file sharing is often bogged down behind several layers of network and computer firewalls; Wirehog programmers were able engineer their program to evade those obstacles.

"Most of the work was to generate solutions to route people," Zuckerberg said, contrasting the application with peer-to-peer programs. "It's not optimized to make transfers as quickly as possible. It's optimized to connect to people's computers."

Despite this programming, the safety of a computer connected to Wirehog is not compromised, Zuckerberg said, explaining that if behind a firewall, access to a computer is generated from an outside source, by a computer that is not similarly protected.

For students on the Dartmouth campus, frustrated with instant messenger firewall problems, Wirehog is a welcome relief.

"I have problems file sharing with my brother at Cornell over AIM," said Angela Fang '07. "It takes a long time to transfer the file, if it even finishes."

Other students have experienced similar difficulties with other instant messenger programs.

"I use MSN Messenger and Yahoo Messenger and I have trouble sending files through both," said Frank Gutierrez '07. "Connecting to those messengers takes forever also."

The Wirehog program generates a location for a computer on the internet, Zuckerberg said, and can be shared only within a small network of friends -- to friends of friends at most.

The program is also designed to generate manageable folders for the different media files being shared, so that users of Wirehog can easily maneuver through shared files.

Release of the program is now contingent on gauging the capacity of the Wirehog servers. The feedback for the program has been positive, Zuckerberg said. Wirehog will be released more widely once small issues have been ironed out.