Peer-to-Peer Pressure

Napster proved that broadband requires new business models that both consumers and content providers can live with.

Over the weekend, I decided to test my thesis by checking out the anarchic alternative — a host of Gnutella clones now coming to market — and the efforts of industry and government to squelch them.

Going in, I thought that the technology would have a hard time. Most people are ethical. They don’t want to cheat anyone. Most people don’t want to put their freedom at risk for a song, either.

And right now the peer-to-peer movement is marked by fear and loathing.

But first, the good news.

A host of Gnutella replacements is out there. Some have Gnutella-like names, such as Gnotella, Gnucleus, and Newtella. Others are building their own brands, such as BearShare, FURI, and LimeWire. There are clients specifically for the Macintosh, such as Mactella, clients for Linux, such as gnut, and clients written in Java (FURI and LimeWire are of this type).

I loaded several of these clients and enjoyed BearShare the most. It’s fun seeing where the hosts are, and I even learned what the Estonian flag looks like. The program also has a “monitor” function so you can see what people are searching for as they enter their search terms.

The peer-to-peer movement also has several excellent news sites with access to programs, including Marc Molinaro’s Gnutella News and Chris Hedgecock’s Zeropaid. Gnutella News tends to boost the Gnutella concept pretty hard, while Zeropaid is a big fan of Vincent Falco’s BearShare.

Zeropaid’s BearShare connection is currently paying off in a number of newsbreaks that show the dark and fearful side of the technology. Through this link, Zeropaid reported on how most versions of Windows cripple file sharing and how ISPs that use their own software for dial-up networking cripple peer-to-peer. Zeropaid also reported on Copyright.Net, which is designed to spot copyright violations as they happen and get Gnutella users kicked off their ISPs before they can get offline.

As I said, I tried several of these programs, and the pressure has changed a lot about how peer-to-peer works. Refused and timed-out connections are now common. Most nodes on the network during the weekend seem to be modems. As many as one-third of the searchers monitored by BearShare are for pornographic images or film clips, not music. And I still can’t get an MP3 version of the “Iron Chef” theme.

I drew several conclusions from all my testing. When technology is driven underground, everyone has to watch his or her back. Peer-to-peer is no longer a place for kids or naove users. For now the music industry has succeeded in its goal of putting this genie back in the bottle.

But in doing so, the industry has also put the Internet’s development on hold. The recorded music industry remains healthy, despite reports to the contrary. Its growth seems driven more by megahits and teens (the audience least likely to use peer-to-peer) than ever before.

In other words, there’s little reason for the industry to change. And the problem doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon.

Related reading