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Making 1GB downloads easier to swallow

Sending big files such as photos is difficult and cumbersome. Will peer-to-peer e-mail do the trick?

Pando Networks is going to try to make it easier for friends to send video to one other.

The start-up last week kicked off a public beta of its service, a peer-to-peer network that lets participants swap large files with one other through e-mail--without choking their computers. The files can be up to 1GB in size, can be sent to multiple participants at once, and can consist of music, video, pictures or other files.

Several hardware and software companies are currently working on ways to . Who will win the competition remains difficult to predict, but Pando at least can brag of a good number of early beta testers.

So far, about 650,000 people have downloaded the client and around one-third of them use it roughly twice or more a month, Pando CEO Robert Levitan said.

"Everyone has a problem with e-mail attachment limits," he said. "The question we're wrestling with is how often do you have it?"

Investors in the company, which formed in 2004, include Intel Capital and Wheatley Partners. The company has raised $11 million in two rounds of funding.

The company's chief has some Internet bubble scar tissue, which venture investors say can always help a start-up from getting too cocky. A founder of both iVillage and Flooz, Levitan saw his first two companies take off.

But by 2001, Flooz was stung by the economic meltdown and Russian scammers and had to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. He wound up the company on Sept. 10, 2001, and on his first day of unemployment, pedaling an exercise bike in the gym, he watched the Sept. 11 attacks unfold.

Pando's network functions in a similar fashion to other peer-to-peer networks, but with anonymity. When an individual wants to send a file, it goes through servers at Pando. The intended recipient then gets an e-mail notifying him or her that someone has sent a video file. While the first few recipients might download it directly from the central servers, subsequent users will receive the complete download in piecemeal from several sources, thereby speeding up the downloading process.

"The more people that have it (the file to be downloaded), the less time it takes to deliver it," Levitan said.

When the New York City-based company recently updated its own software, it sent out 10 copies but 100,000 people were able to upgrade their computers.

Unlike most peer-to-peer networks, however, there is no search function or file directory. Thus, if a person sends out a video of his family, it only goes to the intended recipients. Third parties won't know it is there, and thus can't randomly come across the video and create a cultural phenomenon by posting snarky comments about the family's looks and quirks. That would only happen if the intended recipients decided to post it publicly somewhere.

The company also can disable files that contain pirated copyright material and can kick off repeat offenders of piracy laws. The company doesn't actively look for potential piracy, but removes files when notified.

Ultimately, the service will go up against photo upload sites like Flickr. How will the company compete with the popularity of those sites? First, Levitan asserts, Pando lets the recipient get a full-resolution copy of the photo or video. Second, the network involves less labor.

"If I want to send you a folder of 400 photos, am I going to upload that?" he said.

The service is currently free and generates revenue through advertising. The company will later come out with premium services. Pando will also try to cut deals with film studios to deliver high-definition film trailers through the network for a fee.

"Right now," he said, "there is no way to stream HD movie trailers.?