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P2P Blockbuster


Here's a random idea I had over the week-end: some software/website to support local swap/trade of DVDs, as a new form of renting.

Most of the DVDs you own sit in your living room un-used for a long time. Why not use them to get to see more movies? Within a neighborhood or a company, you could put people in touch to allow then to trade discs for a certain duration.

This is already something you do with your friends, by informally lending them DVDs that you know they want to see. The idea is to extend your circle of "friends".

To begin, you would need to list the DVDs you would like to share and the ones you are looking for. When a match is found, the trade can be set up. To exchange with a neighbor, you could use mailboxes (both yours and his). At work, you could also use interoffice mail (if company policy allows it).

Open issues and pain points:
Manual input for DVD lists (owned and requested):
This is definitely a bottleneck that needs to be worked on. On the other hand, you don't need to input all the DVDs you own for this system to become useful, especially as more users join. Also, you don't need to completely rely on the automatic request matching, but instead use manual querying or navigation of the available discs (owned by users who are interested in something you have).

Using Amazon's or IMDB's search engines to find the exact DVD based on some keywords could improve this process. Integration with DVD player or catalog software could also help.

How to make it easy to physically swap the discs?
Mail (with Netflix-style envelopes) should not be used, because I would think trust fades with distance.
So the easiest is to restrict your search/swapping to people who are either in your building, campus or neighborhood, depending on your preferences. Also, within a company you could use interoffice mail.

If users think the risks (damage, late return, loss, ...) are too high, they won't participate. The main mitigation for this is to have the transactions be symmetric: you borrow from the person you are lending to. Also you know the name of the person you are swapping with.
The software should also support filing complaints, so that you can assess the reputation of a swapper.
Maybe some kind of security deposit could also be used.

More thoughts:
There is a need for cheap content swapping. This approach offers the advantage of being legal, as far as I can tell.
The same principle could be used for books.
I was thinking about CDs as well, but I don't think it works as well (mostly because their usage pattern is probably different than that of DVDs or books).

There something like this should bootstrap nicely, because it may be useful even when there are only a few people and the network effect makes it increasingly interesting to join.

In terms of features, notifications (RSS or email) could be sent when a match is found (A has something B wants and vice-versa) or to remind you of a late return.
Support for queues could be included, to handle concurrent requests for the same item.
The system could also be enriched with ratings of the items and reputation of the swappers.
More options could be offered like choosing for how long you want to swap (I think 2 weeks would be a good default) or improving the search with better geo-location or classifications.

Thanks to Larry and James, I discovered MediaChest and PeerFlix. Here are some other bloggers' take on PeerFlix: Todd and Martin.

Just found out about the Distributed Library Project, that supports books, video and music. It is deployed in the San Francisco Bay area.
The idea was also applied to other items, like handbags ;-)


Is close to your idea?

Posted by: Larry O'Brien (May 19, 2004 12:53 PM) ______________________________________

We have a slightly better system here, its called the library. Has the list of title already in there, search on the web, put requests in, check the movie out for a week (or a few), return it when done. Oh, those old movies I bought on DVD? I gave them to the library.

Posted by: Derek (May 23, 2004 12:11 AM) ______________________________________

I think

is trying to solve the problem you're talking about?

Posted by: James Corbett (June 2, 2004 08:43 AM) ______________________________________

Thanks a lot for the feedback. I'll definitely look more into these.
New York Times (free reg required) just mentioned PeerFlix ( ).

When I had this idea, I didn't see how it could be a business, but rather a free local service (inside a company or a neighborhood). It really opened my eyes to see it can be the start for a business. I'm curious to see how well they fare in the future (I'll keep an eye on both).
I'm not sure how Mediachest finances itself, but PeerFlix charges a monthly membership or a per-trade fee. I also don't know how successful they are, in terms of number of users and trades.
PeerFlix adds some interesting twists: "Own what you receive" and "Peerflix PeerSafeā„¢ Protection" ("We will credit you for any DVD that is lost, stolen or damaged.").

I'm still thinking about writing my own website/software to implement this, as people around me (at work) have responded quite positively to the "P2P trading" idea (for DVDs and games).

The library works well too, but for some reason it doesn't appeal to me as much. First, you need a library (large centralized resource) and second you have to give up ownership of the items you share...

Posted by: Dumky (June 3, 2004 01:35 PM) ______________________________________

If you've loaned a DVD to someone else, and you've lost track of it, do you still own it?

Seriously, with kids, I'd rather check out the movies I own and have them scratch up the loaner disks because the library can send in batches of disks to be repolished on the cheap. My copy of silly food songs on the other hand is a lost cause...

Posted by: Derek (June 10, 2004 06:10 PM) ______________________________________

The way it works is (i've been a member for a few weeks now) that you put in a couple DVD's (in my case like 7 that I was really done with) and that gives you some 'peerbux' to get DVD's you want to watch. Personally I don't care if I get my DVD's back, I just plan on using my points so that I NEVER have to go to a videostore again! I just keep sending out the DVD's after I watch them, which gives me back more peerbux to get more. since I put in quite a few movies, I have lots of points to play with, so I'm watching like 4 movies a week, which is perfect for me. I personally don't care about how pretty the DVD is, as long as it plays and so far they all have. But because of their protection system, i know that if I get a bad disc, I can just send it in and they will give me back the points. Also once I wanted to lend a friend Amelie (one of the movies I put in originally) I just addded it to my want list, and I got it in a few days! They must be getting more users quickly, because I've noticed the 'Movies available Now' section getting a lot bigger, with most new releases already available.

Just my $0.02

Posted by: Martin Alexander (June 26, 2004 12:33 AM) ______________________________________

Ive use Peerflix for a few months and agree with Marty. It works pretty well and I had one disk arrive unplayable and I got a reply within hours to send the disk directly to Peerflix and they gave me a credit for it (in the form of "peerbucks" which is what you use to get the DVDs). I sent out my personal copy of Das Boot and wanted it back and got it back within a few days (who knows if it was the same exact DVD who cares it works). There look to be about 500 to 1000 titles currently available (hard to tell exactly but thats a pretty accurate range) with new titles added daily. This means the mainstream stuff is pretty well represented but the more obscure stuff you just have to wait untill Peerflix grows and members start adding to the library. I think it will hit a critical mass in 6 to 12 months and really take off, but I do wonder how well it will scale. Because sometimes I get a request to loan someone a DVD (always a good thing as I can ship it out and get peerbucks and be able to get new DVDs so the more requests the better).. but often someone has allready beaten me to the punch.. I suppose Peerflix can control how many people it informs that a DVD request is waiting. I hear they are growing fast and having trouble meeting demand for envelopes but I have had no problem and only watch 2 or 3 movies a week. If you want a particular movie right away, there are better ways.. but Peerflix is a nice companion, a way to get more out of your existing DVD collection.. Also if you are into copying DVDs, just copy your DVDs to a hard drive and let them sit there for 6 months by which time the 9GB +R drives will be (affordably) available and then make copies so you have the best of both worlds and dont have to worry about getting your DVDs back.

I would like to see 2 things:

1) Tracking DVDs .. it would be nice to know the history of a DVD like how many people had it before, where roughly it has been. Adds a lot of flavour and character that would make it much more addictive.

2) A community group of some kind to discuss.

Posted by: Stephen (July 23, 2004 09:55 PM) ______________________________________

I like the PeerFlix concept better because, like NetFlix, there's no centralized "enforcement" of late fees, etc. I have a twist on this concept, however, that could be implemented without a "middle man" (given appropriate P2P technology):

Posted by: Richard Tallent (August 9, 2004 03:33 PM) ______________________________________

thanks for great project management ideas

Posted by: project management (February 9, 2005 06:12 PM) ______________________________________

I caught your thread and thought I'd chime in with a helpful plug of my own.

You may also find to be a good alternative to the existing services you discuss. Not only can you trade-in DVD's but you can also trade-in your unwanted CDs and Video Games for the ones you really want.

All transactions are $1.00. Get ANY CD, DVD or Video Game for points and a $1 per-item transaction fee. Maximum $5 in transaction fees per month - get anything you want with no transaction fee after that.

Take a look and join, it's free, and give us your thoughts.



Posted by: QueenBee (June 6, 2005 01:51 PM) ______________________________________

There will soon be an alternative to and it's called GatorPond It will be similar to peerflix, but allow to trade other media as well. Something you will want to watch. It's scheduled to go live within the next few months or by the end of the year at the latest.

Posted by: Dale (September 6, 2005 11:46 AM) ______________________________________

I like mediachest, but wish I could also lend/borrow things like ladders, drills, Turkey deep fryer, etc. Things that I only use a couple times a year.

Posted by: GeekAustin (October 17, 2005 01:02 PM) ______________________________________

For drills, ladders and other such tools, you could try tool lending libraries too. See the compiled list at

Have you sent your suggestion to MediaChest? Seems like a good idea to me.

Posted by: Julien Couvreur (October 18, 2005 07:51 AM)
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