Wikipedia to host videos using BitTorrent

Do-it-yerself uncyclopedia Wikipedia has announced the launch of a pioneering BitTorrent-powered video streaming service on its website.

The BitTorrent protocol is synonymous in many people's minds with file-sharing sites such as The Pirate Bay, whose founders are currently appealing a court ruling that they promoted the illegal sharing of copyright material.

But BitTorrent can be used in a number of ways to distribute data of many types around the internet. As an article on file-sharing news site TorrentFreak reports, the peer-to-peer (P2P) technology is used by universities and big-name such as Facebook and Twitter to share data between servers.

BitTorrent has recently gained the ability to stream content via clients such as Tribler and uTorrent - but so far, few sites have taken the technology mainstream.

Now the Wikimedia Foundation, the encyclopedia's umbrella organisation, has found a novel way to cut the cost of hosting video content. Visitors will now share some of their bandwidth when they view Wikimedia Foundation's streaming video content using P2P-Next's BitTorrent client, Swarmplayer.

Announcing the move, the Wikimedia Foundation said: "Eventually bandwidth costs could saturate the foundation budget or leave less resources for other projects and programs. For this reason it is important to start exploring and experimenting with future content distribution platforms and partnerships."

Wikipedia's system uses a combination of webseeds and BitTorrent peers to spread the load. High-priority sections, such as the start of the video, are pulled via traditional HTTP sources, while later segments are served via the BitTorrent protocol.

More than 6,000 videos are currently hosted on Wikimedia's servers. All are set to use the technology, which will also be employed on all new clips.

Swarmplayer is currently only available as a plugin for Firefox (though reports suggest it doesn't work too well with the version 4 betas). An Internet Explorer plug-in is expected in the next couple of days, and a Chrome version is promised soon.