Tiversa, a five-year-old company based in Pittsburgh, specializes in knowing what kind of content is being shared over peer-to-peer networks. Until now, it's concentrated on helping businesses find and fix data leaks caused by file-sharing users. But Tiversa's got other plans for its technology, including working with advertisers to understand and respond to user activity on P2P networks.P2P networks have long suffered a bad rap, going back to the troubles of Napster seven or eight years ago. They can be a hornet's nest of copyright violation, ill-intended searches, and leaked data. As InformationWeek reported earlier this week, P2P networks are rife with sensitive business documents and personal information, often the result of users inadvertently storing those documents in their music folders or otherwise misconfiguring the file-sharing application during installation. (See "Your Data And The P2P Peril" and "Our P2P Investigation Turns Up Business Data Galore."
Tiversa helps businesses get the data leak problem under control, and it turns out that its technology can be used in other ways, too. The company has begun working with unnamed advertisers to see if the information it culls from P2P activity -- primarily search terms and search matches -- might be used for market intelligence or even targeted ad campaigns.
How might that work? Say someone is looking for a copy of the 2007 movie Beowulf. Tiversa's real-time monitoring system might respond to the search with an offer of a licensed copy of the movie or a related game. These are somewhat murky waters given that P2P networks have served as a distribution channel for unlicensed music and movies, but it could be another step toward commercializing and legitimizing file sharing. Just last week, the Distributed Computing Industry Association, a trade group for the P2P industry, held a conference devoted to P2P advertising and new business models.
Tivera's technology could ultimately turn up in browsers. Tiversa COO Chris Gormley says incorporating P2P search into a browser tool bar would be a "no brainer." The company has been in discussions with a major Web portal, though it won't disclose names. "They could use our technology to create a whole different search engine," he says. "They could be become the Google of peer to peer."
Don't scoff. Tiversa says 1.5 billion searches a day take place on P2P networks, several times the volume handled by Google. If accurate, it's only a matter of time before mainstream advertisers get serious about the file-sharing crowd.