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Alexandria vs LBRY – Which will be the file sharing application of the next generation?

The next generation of file sharing applications is on the verge of being released with new features like payments built in and no need for tracker sites. The two leading contenders are very different from each other but beautifully conceived.

BitTorrent is starting to show it’s age. Not only is it less user-friendly than people have come to expect in a media-consumption application these days, but better network infrastructure like IPFS is starting to become available, which is capable of much faster downloads.

Although BitTorrent is more popular than ever, so are the paid services that it competes with, like Netflix and Hulu. These newer services are easy to use, and download times are so good that we often forget that they’re downloading at all.

Since there is clearly a market for users that appreciate super-simple interfaces and no waiting, more than they do free content, several developers are trying and improve upon the whole concept of file sharing, doing whatever it takes to make it as smooth and speedy as possible.

Now that cryptocurrencies are in the mix, there’s also the added third dimension of publishing to consider. File-sharing systems like BitTorrent always lacked the ability to pay for downloads, up until a recent project called JoyStream. The service was the first of it’s kind, incentivizing torrents with bitcoin. Unfortunately, the project still isn’t finished, and it still looks a lot like BitTorrent by dealing with tracker links.

Authors, directors, and artists who would like to use this kind of platform to sell their content will likely find that the potential viewership is no larger than the current viewership available through BitTorrent. They can also make much more money selling their content through iTunes or Amazon, even while paying the listing fees, at least for now.

Some of these problems prompted the developers behind Alexandria and LBRY to step up and create their next-generation publishing platforms. Both are fully decentralized applications, that accept bitcoin for content, and make it easier than ever to find the content you’re looking for. Both have far higher speeds than the old BitTorrent network, providing instant streaming of even high-definition video, much like Netflix does.

Both allow the sharing of any type of file or media, and have redesigned the ugly ‘tracker’ system from BitTorrent. This does away with the need for tracker websites that can be taken down, like the Pirate Bay. Both allow for cryptocurrency payments to access content, which allows publishers to start seriously considering using either of these platforms to sell their content through. Unfortunately, both are also unfinished, and neither supports TOR for user privacy yet.

Alexandria was the first to go public, back in April. Their client application is already working, on multiple operating systems, but there is very little content on it yet, and the upload process is still incomplete.

What it does offer is a dashboard that is far prettier and more useful than anything BitTorrent ever had:


Once connected to the peer-to-peer network, the search bar and filters can find any media shared across the network. Since it uses IPFS to store the files, it always chooses the shortest path between you and a copy of the file that you’re looking for. The result is media that can start playing the second you hit one of those play buttons.

Pin to PlayAlexandria allows all kinds of free and paid content, and paying tiny fractions of a bitcoin for other users to seed the content makes it easily accessible. You can also store (seed) it locally too, for free.

Where it gets really interesting is when you want to charge for your content. There will be many options for people to demo and buy content, such as a free option to hear a few seconds of a song, a set price for a high-quality stream but no download, and then separate prices for downloads at different qualities. You can also elect to let people consume your content if they agree to download and seed your content for a certain period of time, an option called “pin to play.”

Although Bitcoin is the primary currency used by Alexandria, the system has also integrated the cryptocurrency florincoin. Florincoin’s blockchain allows for more data storage per transaction than the bitcoin blockchain, so they use it to store the content index data, the pointers telling your application where the file you’re searching for is kept.

It turns out that this information was a little too large to keep on the bitcoin blockchain, which left them with the painless choice of adding another currency to Alexandria, and they’ve done so well; even adding a florincoin wallet and the ability to trade bitcoins for florincoins in the app with no fees.

Although there is no official word on how Alexandria will deal with the piracy of copyrighted content, the developers of this open source application appear to have no love for Intellectual Property laws. At the same time, they currently have no plans to support TOR for anonymity either.

You can browse Alexandria’s content right now, without downloading anything, by visiting here, and if you want to help beta test it, the download site is here. Although the official release date hasn’t been named yet, the developers have said that testers will be able to upload their own content very soon.

Meanwhile, LBRY, pronounced “library,” arrived in September, and the dev team recently released a working client application, although only for Linux users.

The LBRY system is very different from Alexandria and BitTorrent, including the fact that it has its own blockchain to mine. The platform also encrypts all content, letting the publisher hold onto the private key, while the public key allows you to view the content, and can be sold or given away for free.

Perhaps the most interesting difference is the naming system, which works a lot like the internet’s Domain Naming System (DNS).

LBRYIn much the same way you would register a domain name for your website that starts with an “http://”, in LBRY, you would register a name for each piece of content that you want to share, and those start with “lbry://”.

The idea is that web browsers will eventually read those links automatically, so that you can simply click on an URL like “lbry://wonderfullife”  in order to watch the movie ‘It’s a wonderful life.”

“Whoever pledges the most credits against a name holds it, subject to a defined window for a counter-bid.”
— – LBRY

While at first this reservation only naming convention appears to create issues with the ownership of a lbry:// name, the LBRY team very carefully built this feature upon the Nobel-prize winning theory of economist Ronald Coase, in order to derive the most efficient price point possible for delivering the correct content to each viewer.

Unfortunately, it appears that this efficient price will not be paid for in bitcoins. LBRY’s founders have decided to use an alternative cryptocurrency called “Library credits” (LBC). The projects Director, Jeremy Kauffman, told Brave New Coin “our entire ability to exist as a company involves LBRY credits holding value.”

There are three different ways to earn LBC in the system. Hosts can provide disk space for other people’s encrypted chunks of content, while Miners can secure balances and metadata. Publishers should earn the most, if they have high-quality content that others are searching for, and charge an efficient fee to view it.

Piracy of copyrighted content is handled in much the same was as Alexandria. The application is open source, with no central party to fine, but they are taking every step they can to avoid copyright lawsuits being flung their way, and have already hired an IP lawyer.

Linux users can get their hands on LBRY here, and at the time of this writing, you can even earn 1,000 LBC for testing it out and telling their developers how it worked for you.

Both Alexandria and LBRY have their strengths and weaknesses, and perhaps both will find a niche and thrive. Without accepting bitcoins, however, LBRY could have a very hard time convincing users to buy and use an additional currency. Meanwhile, Alexandria has a clear lead in development. No matter which succeeds, we can all look forward to new ways for publishers to distribute content.


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