I just got back from a great P2P
conference in the university town of Linköping, Sweden (27-29 August 2001). The flight was
long (18+ hrs) but the the city was beautiful and the weather was perfect, crisp,
kind of like Oregon; the light drizzle of rain stopped whenever we needed it to. The
building we were in seemed brand new and was immaculate. I wanted to move there,
it was clean, futuristic, and the cafe was in the center of the building, about
20 feet away from the many, many computer labs. Code, eat, code, eat…
The call for papers was my first clue that this was going to be a clueful conference,
a meeting of the minds and not fluffy marketing pitches. There were 1/2 hour
and 1 hour presentations, and almost all of them were technical. The only thing
I would have asked for was more time for Q/A on the 1/2 hour presentations.
The format was how I like it- one main track, not multiple parallel tracks (which
inevitably overlaps the only two talks you wanted to hear…)
This was a refreshing relief from past conferences I have attended, where P2P
companies would show up at conferences as a sort of roll-call, desperately pitching
solutions to each other (as if there were any customers there.)
As for attendees, it was about a 1/2 split between students and industry, but
the industry reps were all engineers. Sweden IEEE and several other IEEE members
were there. P2PWG was there in the form of
Wireless was represented by Ericson, and a compelling speech by their Philippe
Charas correlated the end of the cold war with the rise of the Internet, social
and technical decentralization. He argued that the AAA (Authentication, Authorization
and Accounting) functions in wireless need to be moved into the end devices
because of the many different mobile end points a consumer may be using.
Gene Kan and Steve Waterhouse from Sun were there as well, and Gene must have
been awed to see students from around the world doing graduate work on the Gnutella
system and protocol. Ross Lee Graham (the
conference chair and a professor from Linköping computer science) pointed
out that his student, Eduard Turcan, had recieved his master’s degree in peer-to-peer!
Steve Waterhouse, Director of Engineering for JXTA Services and Applications,
gave an extremely comprehensible presentation on JXTA,
and I also really learned a lot from his explainations of decentralized search.
Coming from the earlier aquired Infrasearch, he certainly knows something about
the subject, and it is fantastic to recieve knowlege like that directly from
Oregon University was represented by Zary Segall, who presented his department’s
work on wearable computing
(which obviously involves P2P when they communicate directly.) He showed scenarios
where people interacted on campus, and their computers used XML to meet each
other and decide whether these people liked the same music, studied the same
subjects, or could run errands for each other by comparing their to do lists.
It made me think of specifying the PTBP or pass-the-buck protocol for pawning
off ("delegating") tasks automatically, wirelessly…
The event delved into the commercial realm just a bit on the third day with
a panel discussion on "P2P Business Models". The audience didn’t ask
that many questions but listened attentively as the discussion meandered into
more general business issues like venture capital and the pseudo-recession.
The sponsors of the event, QuickCom,
got a bit pitchy but to be fair they presented a rather novel P2P system that
runs on top of multicast, and they described it in technical detail, so the
in-depth quality of the conference was not compromised. A group of researchers
from Malaysia proposed the use of multicast protocols as a peer discovery system
("Purep2p") as well.
An interesting note is that in Europe, industry still funds university research,
whereas in the United States, research is "funded" by simply hiring
the student, cutting out the middleman. In a sense, one could consider that
research is now returning to its traditional realm, university, instead of being
funded at great risk and expense by a starry-eyed venture community.
Once the final copies of everyone’s presentations are collected, there will
be a final Publication of the Proceedings. I wish there could be more of these
technical, academic P2P conferences. No political wrangling, minimal sponsor
commercials, no careful company posturing, just a very educational meeting
of the minds. They plan to have another conference on P2P in similar style in
the coming year and with the quality of this one I will certainly be going.