During Napster’s reign, this early P2P network became a household name. Although not the first P2P or file-sharing network, it brought this once obscure Internet medium into the limelight. Over time however, the RIAA would pursue this network and force it into submission in the spring of 2001. Yet the cultural impact of Napster was unmistakable. This network brought together communities of individuals that would otherwise use the Internet for little more than web surfing and email. It introduced a new world to the Internet masses that broadened the horizons of millions.
There was little doubt the impact Napster had on the general public. With 26 million registered users and 1.5 million simultaneous users at its peak, Napster was a highly publicized network. College students, adults, teenagers and seniors – just about everyone got in on the action. The name “Napster” became synonymous with the ability to download music off the Internet. Ask anyone during this time how to obtain music on the Internet, and the answer was nearly always “Napster.” However in 2001, millions suddenly found themselves without a means to trade files. The only knowledgeable method to find music suddenly vanished. This event would have a profound impact. Most notably, many participants of Napster would no longer participate in file-sharing. Although statistically the combined total of the P2P population had well exceeded Napster by late 2001, many individuals still gave a bewildered look to the question “how do you obtain music?”
Even several years later, when the total P2P population made Napster appear diminutive, many ex-Napster users simply did not recognize the existence of any other file-sharing method. This population had largely been replaced by younger and more computer savvy individuals who found solace with several various P2P networks.
While P2P was expanding, it had lost its mascot – it face if you will. There was no single network or method the general public could associate with P2P. Kazaa came close, but even with its 4.5 million simultaneous users – triple the size of Napster – it never quite reached the same cultural prominence. This could be attributed to the fact that Kazaa was largely associated with spyware, viruses, false files and corruption, rather than a P2P icon.
This lack of a cultural icon has slowly begun to change. A recent survey conducted by CacheLogic and Big Champagne found that nearly 74% of all files traded on P2P networks were music files. CacheLogic’s study found that Kazaa was no longer a prominent music source, and that a majority of its population was only interested in video files. The study did find however, that a majority of file-traders were heading over to the Gnutella network for their musical needs.
Gnutella was first introduced to the P2P world in April of 2000. Many in the P2P community largely ignored this network, yet it did find itself with a sizable following. Slowly, this poorly performing network would become a top-notch community, thanks to the development efforts of LimeWire and BearShare. Out of the two development teams, LimeWire would become the unequivocal leader of Gnutella, thanks to its open source client, lack of spyware/adware and favorable reputation.
During the 2005, Gnutella and LimeWire would see its population soar. According to LimeWire’s host counter, this network frequently boasts more than 2 million simultaneous users. Some estimates place the total size of this community much higher – perhaps as many as 6 million.
Observations dictate this is not an unreasonable estimate. Gnutella has grown from a virtually useless network to a high performance P2P community capable of obtaining a wide array of information. The ease and resourcefulness of Gnutella, especially for music, has once again given P2P an icon. LimeWire’s cultural popularity has become parallel, if not greater, than Napster, as it too has gained household recognition.
We still ask the question, “How do you obtain music?”
And the answer? “Limewire, of course.”