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Die Uber Napster

Fasttrack will change everything. 7/16 ReleVents/Newsletter hed: Der Uber Napster dek: Fasttrack will change everything. By James Mathewson

The operative cliché these days regarding Internet content is, “The genie is out of the bottle.” Though overused, it serves as a good metaphor for the Napster revolution. Various ComputerUser analysts (including myself, ad nauseum) have said that no matter what the legal outcomes regarding Napster, someone will develop an even better peer-to-peer (P2P) technology that encompasses not only digital music but all types of content available in digital form. When that happens it will radically change the economics of the Internet content business.

CU Managing Editor Dan Heilman has been covering the digital-music craze monthly in his Tracks column since May 2000. This month, he gives an overview of the various Napster wannabes. The upshot is, none of them even come close to the speed and selection of Napster. Gnutella, with several knock-off clients like Bearshare, is an example of why it is futile to try to stamp out the P2P fire all together. But Gnutella does not come close to Napster’s selection.

After reading July’s Tracks column, you might get the impression that, by shutting Napster down, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has put that genie back in the bottle after all. But this past week, we carried a story about Fasttrack, a Dutch P2P network that is already at Napster’s April 2000 user levels and growing fast. According to the story, Fasttrack is faster and has more selection than Napster ever did. Also, because it is based in the Netherlands, Fasttrack will be much harder to take out in court than Napster. And because it does not rely on a central server but instead employs a more pure P2P model like Gnutella, even a court order to shut down servers will be impossible to enforce. Finally, it’s not just a music venue, but it caries all kinds of digital content, including movies and software. In short, Fasttrack is the model for the kind of service that won’t go away and will change Internet content for good.

It will be interesting to see how Fasttrack affects our industry. But I don’t want to wait and merely react to it. I’m making plans as I write this to proactively deal with the P2P revolution. To me, P2P and micropayments are a perfect fit. As cartoonist Scott McCloud has demonstrated very well, it may be the only way to reward artists in a P2P network. Implementation challenges stand in the way, but if the genie truly is out of the bottle, we may have no choice but to figure out a way to implement micropayments.

James Mathewson is editorial director of ComputerUser magazine and

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