File Sharing is Fun!, (part 1 of 2)|
[ No. 46 - August 2000 ]
By now we've all been deluged with the Big Story of how Napster and
other file sharing applications are changing the music distribution
landscape. Let's bypass the legal squabbles and get right to the guts
of the matter: why is it useful and how does it work? Think of it as a
giant, free promotional machine that makes your music available to
anyone with an Internet connection. To share your music with others,
you'll want a broadband connection of some kind because, even with MP3
compression, music files are big. Napster must be running constantly as
files will be traveling back and forth over the network at all times.
This would severely tax a mere 56k dialup. (One of the benefits of
uploading to a site like IUMA or Riffage: they share your files for you
and are always on so you don't have to be.) Nonetheless, if you want to
see how the whole thing works for yourself, let's get into it!
What is file sharing? It's the act of swapping files (in this case:
music) between users (listeners like you and us) across a network (the
Internet). You'll need a computer connected to the Internet. If you
have broadband connectivity and leave your computer on, it's easy to
have the program running so people can download files even when you
aren't there. You also need MP3 files! If you're sharing your own files
(which of course you *are* since otherwise you may be breaking the law,
*wink-wink*), we trust you have already created them (if you need help,
look at <www.fezguys.com> column #27).
Remember to set the ID3 tags since they help Napster identify correct
artist and song title. ID3 is one of the ways MP3 files include information
about the song you're listening to. Rather than store actual genre names, the
ID3 tag stores a number that matches a pre-dictated genre. In your FezGuy's
humble opinion, this system is less than perfect since current
genres are extremely limiting. Bands (and even songs) often reside
within multiple genres and current technologies should easily allow
NAPSTER 2.0 BETA 6 (Windows only)
Besides the core file-sharing their application provides, Napster has some
web-based features. We'll take a look at those first, and then dive into
Napster - As a Web Utility
In many ways Napster's recently launched "New Artist Program" (NAP)
isn't much different from other artist upload sites. This is where you
can "find the best up-and-coming musicians by typing a band name in the
search box, or browse the list of genres below." Artists can enter
themselves in Napster's database, including a short description, latest
news, influences, home town, home page and genre (more than one can be
listed). Unfortunately the genre listing is limited to what's
available in ID3 tags ("Rock/Pop", "Classical", etc). At least Napster
lets you assign more than one genre to your band.
To sign up go to
and click "create profile." The
bottom of the application form has plenty of legalese (no doubt
influenced by recent lawsuits). It is clearly stated: Napster takes no
responsibility for what you make available, you represent you have the
rights to share this info and music, no porn links allowed, and, of
course, Napster can change the rules any time. After submitting the
artist profile form Napster requests (but does not require) you to
snail mail (or fax) a copy of their "Declaration" form to help them
show the RIAA how Napster is helping artists legally promote their own
music. But printing something out, slipping it into an envelope and
slapping a stamp on is asking a lot in this day and age. Providing your
email address should be sufficient.
Napster's bulletin board system ("Digital Music Forum") has a promising
area called "Emerging Artists" to discuss promo and encoding, but turns
out to be mostly band name and URL posts. This is a common problem with
various web sites' limited attempts to provide community. Without a
moderator nothing stays on topic. If Napster had someone posting tips
and encouraging on-topic discussion on a regular basis the DMF might
actually be a useful resource.
Napster - The Exploded View
After downloading the Napster app (only a minute or two at broadband
speeds), it is simply and quickly installed. First we must agree to
their lengthy terms and disclaimer. We click "Yes" without reading it
(who does?) but are told we "MUST read to the end of the license
agreement before we can proceed." We scroll to the end and click
through. Too much lengthy legalese, gang. Five bulleted items would be
reasonable for people to read and grok. (This applies to all software
companies, not just Napster!)
We are then prompted for our connection speed (to be displayed to other
users downloading files from our computer). Another prompt to choose a
username and password follows and then we're logged into Napster's
central server. Napster, being a program designed to share files, does
the next obvious thing: it asks if it should search our hard drive for
MP3 (or Windows Media) files to share. Since we want to select only a
few songs to share, we say "No".
Next, we select the specific folder(s) we wish to share files from. At
this point it makes sense to create a folder on our desktop called
"Napster Music" so as not confuse ourselves later, but we find there's
no easy way to access our desktop folder in Napster's dialog box.
Instead, we click our way down to C:\Program Files\Napster\Music. It
would be nice if Napster included a "New Directory" option in this
Napster then does some networking stuff (which in our case appeared to
fail) and then told us if we aren't behind a firewall (we aren't) to
ignore the networking stuff it just did. We do. Will it still work? It
does. We're greeted with the default start-up screen: some greeting
text with a status bar showing our nickname, how many files we're
currently sharing (0) and how many files are, at this moment, available
on the constantly morphing network (over 485,000 files in nearly 5000
libraries [each library is an individual user], totalling nearly 2
terrabytes in size).
Chat rooms are provided for every available genre, plus you can create
your own room if you'd like something more personal. We create and join
a "fezguys" channel for fun. Hey look! There we are! No teeming masses
of users join us, alas. Conveniently, it's possible to simultaneously
be in more than one group. We spend a moment in discussion with others
over in the "'70s" group and return to the task at hand.
Our main options are "Chat", "Library", "Search", "Hot List",
"Transfer", and (good for them!) "Help".
We want to share some files of our own music, so we go to "Library."
We're greeted with a split screen where all files in our library
(currently none) will be displayed on the top section while the bottom
section offers advanced playlist controls. For some reason we can't
drag and drop our MP3s into this area. There isn't an "add items"
button, either. We march back to our desktop and copy the files into
our C:\Program Files\Napster\Music folder (created earlier). After
moving our files over, we right click in the Library window and choose
"Refresh Library" and voila!, there are our files. What's more, our
status bar now says we have three files available to share.
Having successfully made three files available we verify the system is
working by searching for our files on the Napster network. We search.
"No Matches" is returned. Accessing the "Help" area illuminates
nothing. Perhaps it just takes a while for the network to catch up.
This is disconcerting. After a bit of research, we conclude that
searches don't check your own local library since you obviously already
have the files. Testing with another computer isn't conclusive either.
We discover that Napster has multiple servers but those servers are
not (yet) connected together. Users searching the network may end up connecting
to a server which doesn't have any of the songs they're looking for.
Connecting again later (to a different server randomly selected by the
app) might work but there are no guarantees. Hopefully Napster will link
their servers together
very soon. For now an artist cannot reliably tell people: "Go to
Napster and search for <bandname>" and be assured their music will be
found. The Napster software will, by default, remain running in the
background (an icon is displayed in your system tray next to the
current time) after you exit the app. This allows people to continue
downloading from your libraries. Since we're sharing our own music,
this is alright with us. But it's easy to forget and later we may
wonder why our connectivity is so slow, not realizing someone is
downloading a file. To temporarily disconnect from the server, simply
open up Napster and select "File"->"Disconnect."
To search for other music, click the "Search" section and enter
an artist name or song name (or portion thereof). You'll receive a list
of matches. As would be expected, a lot of music is available that
suppliers obviously don't have the rights to. Searching for guitarist
Joe Satriani's tune "Borg Sex" found dozens of matches. But searching
for songs by the quirky and defunct progrock band "Brand X" resulted in
only partial matches of other songs and bands (including James Brown's
"Papa's Got A Brand New Bag", and, as if on cue, Metallica's track from
Mission Impossible which started the recent legal battles). Advanced
search options are available. To download a file listed in the search
output, simply double-click on it. Note that files are downloaded into
your Napster\Music directory and will be available to others by default
so move them to another directory if you don't wish to share them (and
possibly be a target for the lawyers).
You can use the "Hot List" to keep track of specific users (and files
they are sharing). The "Transfer" section shows the status of any files
you are downloading as well as anyone who is downloading files from
you. The "Help" section has fairly good coverage of different Napster
functions, as well as general questions users may knock their heads
against. Napster loses points for requiring their software to be
removed and re-installed to perform the simple task of changing your
Napster promises a Macintosh version "soon." Your FezGuys are
encouraged by Napster's "New Artist Program" for developing new (and
useful) services for musicians (not only the pirates!). However, we
feel it appropriate to point out that the same problem that plagues
many upload sites is even more of an issue for file-sharing apps.
Namely: how do people find your music? People still have to know to
search on your band name or song title and that presumes they already
know who you are. It's the age-old question... We'll continue looking
for technology which addresses this situation. A few years ago there
was a brief fad of music recommendation services (like Firefly).
Perhaps it's time to resurrect a good idea. Listen.com can also be of
Next month we'll explain several other file sharing applications
(Macster, Gnutella, Scour Exchange) and how they compare to Napster.
We won't mince words. We don't know how and our blender is stuck