The Prague based P2P company Allpeers is gearing up for their public beta. They are in the process of inviting 50.000 registered testers during the next few days, they are spreading invites amongst readers of various blogs - and they announced there will be no more major updates befor the beta launch. So it's probably a good time to take a final peek behind the curtain and write up a short review.

Allpeers is a Firefox plugin that enables private sharing with groups and individuals. The plugin is available for Windows, OS X and Linux, and the installation process is fairly straightforward. After restarting Firefox you can get access to a left sidebar that lists your friends and family in a instant messenger-style list. It's not possible to add custom groups such as "work colleagues" just yet, but this feature will likely be added in the future. There is also a toolbar with buttons for the main functions, and a second right sidebar is accessed for certain functions such as adding shared files.


Files can be shared with one induvidual, a selected gorup or everyone on you contact list. There are no global shares tho, and there is no global search function either. In fact, there isn't any search function at all. Allpeers clearly tries to distance itself from file sharing platforms and tries to resemble more of a private Bittorrent client. Unlike Bittorrent, there is no function to handle links externally tho - so you can't e-mail anyone a link to a document you share.


Allpeers makes up for this by alowing offline queueing - you can add files to your download list even if someone isn't online. The download then starts as soon as he becomes active - or someone else on your contact list starts offering the same file. Allpeers is even supposed to offer multi-source downloading, with something that resembles Bittorrent working under the hood.


Testing all these capabilities is tough to. The service is clearly beta, with users that are online being displayed as offline, file transfers stopping at random and shares failing to work for no apparent reason. In fact, I'm having two Firefox windows open as I'm writing these lines. One displays "Disconnected" in the status bar, another one tells me that I am "Connected". What is it? I don't really know, and there is no way to resolve this issue because Allpeers doesn't offer any additional information on your connection status.


This missing transparency is clearly frustrating. Allpeers also doesn't display your uploads and doesn't track access to your files - so you have no idea if someone downloaded a certain file. Checking up on such issues would be easier if Allpeers would offer rudimentary Instant Messaging capabilities, but so far all you can do is include simple text messages with your shared files. This makes you switch to your prefered IM platform to sort out Allpeers download issues - and at some point you ask yourself why you didn't use AIM to transfer the file in question in the first place.


Of course most of these things are beta issues that can and most likely will be sorted out later. But there seems to be something more fundamentally wrong with Allpeers. Right now it's a browser-based file sharing application that hardly makes any use of the browser's capabilities. Most functions look like they would look like in a standalone P2P client. Status bars, file preview and buddy lists just aren't that novel to the average P2P user.

The combination of Firefox and P2P could be used for so much more. People could write private blogs that are hosted on their own computers, media could be integrated into personal profiles, the browser could become a platform for distributed play and work environments. I don't see any of that in Allpeers yet, and I'm quite frankly dissapointed about this lack of imagination.

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