The P2P Gene Pool And The Evolution Of Porn Filenames

John Ashcroft's face as a montage of porn images

I sometimes download pornographic video from P2P file-sharing networks. A frequent annoyance is misnamed files, usually generic porn named as a popular star or series. Alternatively, some files have very long filenames consisting of many popular keywords. A typical example (copied from the listings) is Dirty debbie trading ass licks with her brother_bizarre amatueur anal cum slut porno incest gang bang rape brother orgy preteen sister qwerty home made video porn xxx gay.mpg.

Until quite recently, I assumed that for some odd reason, annoying people were flooding the networks with these files. But the explanation is much simpler: their prevalence is merely the result of evolution acting on the pool of shared video files. A file with a popular name or popular keywords is more likely to be found in searches, and more likely to be downloaded. Since people tend to d/l files with many hosts (as they are quicker and more reliable), positive feedback amplifies this effect. While some people will delete or rename a misnamed file, many will not care (or even know). After all, these files do always contain porn (which is evidence that misnamed non-porn does get deleted). And the renamed files are at a competitive disadvantage, since they appear in less searches.

Now, these filenames don't change themselves. There does have to be someone out there misnaming a file, or giving it a long name full of keywords. But the key insight here is that if this mutation is a competitive advantage, we don't need it to happen often. When it does happen, the resulting files will be prolific. It doesn't take a conspiracy to spread them, merely a selection effect.

Evolution is a widespread phenomenon that occurs whenever you have a pool of competing replicators with fecundity and fidelity. Don't make the mistake of thinking of it as a force which is restricted to very long time scales or which has no relevance in our lives. I mean, what could be more relevant than the problem of finding exactly that pornography we're searching for, in this modern, choice-filled world?

More seriously, don't assume that a widespread effect is due to a widespread intentional influence. Complex systems exhibit effects, like selection, which can appear like concerted action when they are really due to many small, independent decisions. Nor is the economy the only such system. In my next post, I'll discuss one way in which similar effects occur in the spread of ideas.

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Part of the reason that name

Part of the reason that name evolution can have such an effect on P2P systems is the time lag between requesting a file and reviewing it. If I set a download to go overnight, it may be on my machine for hours, or even (during a busy time of my life) days before I actually examine its contents.

This can be exacerbated even further by those P2P systems that allow you to be a source for files that yuhave only partially completed downloading yourself. In such cases, I can be helping spread a file for *weeks* before I even get a chance to examine the finished download.

"I sometimes download

"I sometimes download pornographic video from P2P file-sharing networks. "

Really? What for?

(I hope you're respecting intellectual property rights, dood.)

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