Digital Fountains in the Walled Garden


Returning yet again to the topic of how the producer of an information good can shift the distribution load out onto a swarm of consumers. The producer can package his content in ways that make it easier and more likely that the swarm can collaborate. For example he can distributed redundent copies of the data or provide lots of checksums.

The extreme case of this is sometimes called a digital fountain, like a water fountain. The producer sprays a stream of droplets and if the consumer can catch a cup full then he can reassemble the original cup of content. And it turns out there are some very effective algorithums for enabling just that.

Here’s a short and simple survey paper on digital fountains (pdf).

…an idealized digital fountain should …

  • A source generate a potentially infinite supply of encoding packages from the original data. Ideally, encoding packets can be generated in constant time per encoding packet given the original data.
  • A reciever can reconstruct a message that would require k packets to send … once any k encoding packets have ben recieved. This reconstruction should also be extremely fast, preferably linear in k.

Amazingly there are designs that come extremely close to that goal. But.

… Most of the work that has been described above has been undertaken by employees of or consultants with the company Digital Fountain, Inc. … the company has a number of patents issued and pending that appear to cover both the fundamental theory and specific implementation designs …

So, no network effect and this stuff will get designed into only those industrial standards that are pay to play. Damn.

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