Recent history is awash with file sharing applications and services across the world, ranging from the massively successful BitTorrent to smaller yet still impressive services such as Tribler. However most of them either fall short in features such as privacy, or they are aimed purely at those who just want to share files with no consideration for copyright or other legal issues.
Library Mixer is a new open source platform which has been hand-built by an ex-lawyer of all people, with the aim of helping people share and exchange files and media with their friends, privately rather than publicly. What makes this system different is the fact that it’s clearly not designed to facilitate copyright abuse, but is trying to emulate real life exchanges, but by using digital technology.
What do I mean? Well for one thing as well as a pure share function, there is a ‘lend’ feature, which means that you can lend your physical DVD of Bambi to a friend physically using the system, in which case you use the software as a lending diary, so you know to ask for it back the next time you see your chum down the gym.
If you have a digital version of a music album or movie available, then you can lend them the digital version, but the original file will be deleted when it’s moved to their computer, and will only be restored for further lending once it’s been returned by your friend. Clever stuff.
The system comes in two parts. The first is the Library Mixer itself, which is an online web catalog of stuff you own, which connects to online catalogs of stuff your friends own. The catalog has lots of nice features, such as a review wiki, where friends can review each other’s stuff, and a Want/Have section where you can log the fact that you’d like to borrow something, or you have something to lend.
The physical lending is done via your feet, a car and a suitable location, but digital lending is accomplished via the second component of the platform, called The Mixologist. This is a downloadable private chat and file sharing program, with which you share, chat, and generally process wants and haves. It’s very cool.
The whole process is extremely private, only your friends are involved in sharing, reviewing and chatting, and the fact that it can handle books, music, games, TV and video and other types of physical items means that it is extremely versatile and can be used for much more than just file sharing, which is interesting.
The other key thing to note is the fact that there is no central computer controlling the file lending, everything stays on your computer until it is shared privately, so it’s not like a standard file distribution service like Dropbox at all. There is no public element to this system, it’s all very very private, as well as being encrypted for extra security. To share, you simply drop a file or folder into the appropriate place in The Mixologist window and it’s instantly available to all your friends on your terms.
Of course that means you will actually need some friends to make it work, but I can see this becoming very popular in places like colleges, where there’s a ready and willing audience keen to share anything from a new music track to a course textbook. The system has taken 2 years to build, and is currently in beta, but if you want to give it a try you can use the invitation code – Nekothecat.
I’m impressed hugely by the technology and the thinking behind the functionality. The user interface could definitely do with some improvements. At the moment the whole thing feels a little bitty, it needs some UI coherence to gel together and make it easier for people to understand what it’s about and how to use it. But that notwithstanding, it’s a great effort, and top marks for releasing it as a fully open sourced project. Nice!