Cohen grew up in the Upper West Side of Manhattan and learned the BASIC programming language at the age of 5 on the family’s Timex Sinclair computer. He graduated from Stuyvesant High School in 1993, and attended the University at Buffalo. He later dropped out of college to work for several dot com companies throughout the mid to late 1990s, the last being MojoNation, an ambitious but ill-fated project he worked on with Jim McCoy. MojoNation allows people to break up confidential files into encrypted chunks and distribute those pieces on computers also running the software. If someone wanted to download a copy of this encrypted file, he would have to download it simultaneously off of many computers. This concept, Cohen thought, was perfect for a peer-to-peer program, since programs like KaZaA take a long time to download a large file because the file is (usually) coming from one source, or peer. Cohen designed BitTorrent to be able to download files from many different sources, thus speeding up the download time, especially when the peers are on ADSL connections. Thus, the more popular a file is, the faster a user will be able to download it, since many people will be downloading it at the same time, and these people will also be uploading the data to other users.
In April 2001, Cohen quit MojoNation and began work on BitTorrent. Cohen unveiled his novel ideas at the first CodeCon conference, which he and his roommate, Len Sassaman created as a showcase event for novel technology projects after becoming disillusioned with the state of technology conferences. It remains a must-attend event for those seeking information about new directions in software, though BitTorrent continues to lay claim to the title of "most famous presentation".
In the summer of 2002, Cohen collected free pornography to lure beta testers to use the program. The program became an instant hit with Linux users who wanted to swap their enormous open-source programs, but gained its true fame (and infamy) for its ability to quickly share large music and movie files online. Cohen himself has claimed he has never violated copyright law using his software, and suspects the MPAA would love to make a legal example of him if he did. Regardless, he is outspoken in his belief that the current media business was doomed to being outmoded despite the RIAA and MPAA's legal or technical tactics, such as digital rights management. In May 2005, Bram released a trackerless beta version of BitTorrent.
In late 2003, Cohen was hired by Valve Software to work on Steam, their digital distribution system introduced for Half-Life 2. However, by early 2005 he was no longer at Valve, and his primary source of income once again became donations from BitTorrent users.
Cohen claims to suffer from Asperger's syndrome. He claims this condition has given him great ability to concentrate, while also making it difficult for him to relate to other people.
He currently lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with his wife Jenna and his children.
Cohen's hobbies include original origami and juggling up to five balls, but his main interest is what he calls "recreational mathematics". Cohen maintains a blog where he frequently discusses trust metrics with Raph Levien, as well as money systems, games of skill, and other math-related topics. He is also a twisty puzzle enthusiast.
- Bram Cohen's home page
- Bram Cohen's blog
- Official bitTorrent page
- Wired.com Article
- Interview with Cohen about his Asperger's Syndrome
- Interview with Cohen about BitTorrent and CodeCon
- Fortune Magazine Profile