The P2P Network ...

Use of ICT is necessary but not the sufficient condition for inter-personal communication. The parties should be willing to communicate if an exchange is to take place _ technology support is secondary to the process. In our day-to-day life, we commonly observe this phenomenon of non-communication; for example, once chirping love birds choose inaudible frequencies to silence after few years of marriage, generation gap stands between parents and grown-up children. At the work place, lack of confidence among colleagues, and close safeguarding of one's interest hinder communication. Lack of communication leads to reduced knowledge sharing to the detriment of all: individuals as well as institutions.

For the scientists, the stakes are much higher. One has to be the first to conceptualize to discover or invent, or to get a result for the history to take note of one's contribution. So he keeps his activity under wrap until he publishes or takes a patent safeguarding his claim. In industrial research, the results are made public only after IPR protection is taken and at times, after commercialization of research results.

Cut-throat competition constrains or inhibits communication among scientists. Now science has moved from a philosophical plane to the market plane. We may recall that as early as 1645 AD, legendary scientists like Robert Boyle used to meet secretly at Gresham College or elsewhere in London, to exchange their views or knowledge under the name of Invisible College. This forum was formally incorporated as the Royal Society in 1662. Perhaps, the market force was not as dominant as it is today.

If we analyze the situation, it is easy to locate a large space outside these tightly held boundaries of "secrecy-protection-first claim and so on" where effective communication and knowledge sharing could take place provided one does not mistake a rope for a snake.

Well, one would think of an Invisible College as a network of experts. The experts in a given subject area share information in the public domain; a little beyond this, their experiences and further closer _ personal wisdom! For those adept at using contemporary jargon, an Invisible College is a virtual information network of the Peers! It exists, but it does not physically exist. That is why we use the qualifier virtual. A little bit trendier would be, to call an Invisible College a knowledge network.

Knowledge networks were conceptualized for institutions (collaboratories) with common subject interests to work together. A library network, as a variant of a knowledge network, is a consortium of institutions with information resources and services going across the confines of brick walls—several steps ahead of our traditional inter-library lending services. With the advent of Internet and Intranet technologies, which provide the facilities like newsgroups, chat-rooms, workgroups, list servers, personal homepages and open archives, faster and hassle-free peer-to-peer interactions have been greatly facilitated. A new technology variant has emerged.

Peer-to-Peer network or P2P for short (in line with its elder buddies B2B, B2C & C2C) works on the concept of client server but it does not use the centralized indexes on a server to be used by the clients. Both the server and client reside together, serv of the server and ent of client joined to create a portmanteau: servent (do not misspell this as servant). One servent interconnects with few other servents, each of which in turn interconnects with few more _ and thus the net is woven. If a peer intends to communicate, s/he fires that message to the immediate servents, and the message travels to others, and ultimately to all those who share a common interest with the originator. In this process, the network is ever alive. Even if one machine is down, the net works on unlike the traditional client-server situation. P2P is yet another new way to keep in touch with fellow Peers. By no means, it would replace what we already have around.

With all these, there is now little excuse for not being able to communicate with the Peers. Only if one is interested!

— A. Lahiri

Information Today & Tomorrow, Vol. 20, No. 1, March 2001, p.1-p.2