BitTorrent today announced the first torrent-based browser. Project Maelstrom, as the app is currently called, is being made available as an invite-only alpha to “a small group of testers.”

Although BitTorrent is in the very early stages of the project (testers are being asked to help assess for usability and reliability), the company strongly believes Maelstrom “is the first step toward a truly distributed web, one that does not rely on centralized servers.” This is by no means a new idea from the company: It’s the core of the relatively successful synchronization tool BitTorrent Sync.

“Centralized architectures have not scaled well to the volume and size of data moving across the Internet,” a BitTorrent spokesperson told VentureBeat. Maybe, but building a file-sharing tool around the idea of decentralization is not the same as building a whole browser.

BitTorrent’s main argument is that a distributed browser can do more than just relieve the burden put on networks: It could help maintain a more neutral Internet. If an ISP can’t identify where traffic is originating from, then it arguably can’t throttle certain sites accessed from a browser like Maelstrom (we’d argue that it might be able to just throttle all the user’s traffic, but that’s a technical debate that will change as the project grows and we learn more about how it works).

Project Maelstrom could change how content is published, accessed, and consumed online, BitTorrent chief executive Eric Klinker argues. Here’s his pitch:

If we are successful, we believe this project has the potential to help address some of the most vexing problems facing the Internet today. How can we keep the Internet open? How can we keep access to the Internet neutral? How can we better ensure our private data is not misused by large companies? How can we help the Internet scale efficiently for content?

The power of distributed technology that underpins BitTorrent and all of our products has long been an example in this regard, and bringing more of this power to the web is only natural as these challenges loom.

Right now, BitTorrent is merely developing the software and attempting to engage its community. It’s not ready to talk about features, technical details, or business models. Like its other projects, those will come to light as the project takes shape.

It’s thus way too early to say what Maelstrom can achieve, if anything. Nevertheless, it’s fair to say that it’s an ambitious project for BitTorrent to undertake.

If you are interested in helping build for the distributed web, you can sign up by filling out a form; in addition to testers, BitTorrent is looking for researchers, agencies, artists, developers, and publishers. If you just want to get on the alpha list, you can request an invite.

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