The History of the FastTrack network
FastTrack has a long and convoluted history. Prior to Napster's collapse, OpenNap played host to a sub-community called MusicCity. On this network, nearly 20,000 individuals took part in one of the largest OpenNap communities. However, OpenNap's glory was short lived after the RIAA crushed this network in 2001. While OpenNap's story ended, at least temporarily, MusicCity's march toward P2P dominance was about to begin.
On the other side of the globe, in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, a small group of programmers were about to revolutionize P2P networking. At the time, decentralized P2P networking was still in its infancy, as Gnutella was the only network that had this feature. As you probably remember, Gnutella at the time was slow, inefficient and not very reliable. However, in March 2001, a new network was born - FastTrack.
FastTrack took the decentralized nature of Gnutella and added the element of "supernodes". Supernodes act as temporary indexing servers and help support the stability of the network. These supernodes stay outside the control of any company. Rather, the technology is incorporated into the P2P client program, which at the time was KaZaA. If you're running a fast Internet connection coupled by a powerful computer, chances are you're running a supernode.
This concept caught on quickly and the FastTrack userbase grew substantially. On April 20th, 2001, FastTrack's population was approximately 20,000 users. By June 6th, its population had grown past 150,000.
The large boost in FastTrack's population can be partially attributed to the already impressive userbase of MusicCity. On April 20th, 2001, MusicCity users discovered that their OpenNap network had closed down, however had reincarnated into something else. MusicCity reinvented itself into a client named Morpheus. Like KaZaA, Morpheus connected to the FastTrack network. MusicCity had received a license from KaZaA to use their software, with minor cosmetic modifications.
Things from there only got better. With the ability to search and download any file type, an incredible resume feature and multi-segmented downloading, the FastTrack network was well on its way to de-throning Napster as the top P2P network. Soon after FastTrack started to catch on, it did indeed overthrew Naspter. In late 2001, the total volume of files surpassed this once powerful network.
While things looked rosy on the outside, trouble began to rear its head. FastTrack's growth became very evident, and copyright holders didn't hesitate to take action. KaZaA was sued by the Dutch wing of the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, and subsequently lost their court battle in November 2001. The court had ordered KaZaA to pay upwards of $40,000 a day if they didn't comply. Just when you thought things couldn't get any more dramatic...
On January 21, 2002, the P2P world woke up to discover that KaZaA was no longer a resident of the Netherlands, rather they were now in the hands of a off-shore company named Sharman Networks. While shocking, this transfer saved KaZaA from the potential shut down it was facing in its home country. Things only got odder from there. On March 28, 2002, the Dutch court of appeals ruled that KaZaA was not responsible for for illegal file-sharing, rather its population was. This overturned the November ruling. Ok, things calmed down, right?
Sorry, there's just one more twist to the FastTrack story. Around February 24th, 2002, Morpheus users discovered that they were no longer able to connect to the FastTrack network. The MusicCity camp claimed their software was attacked, however the explanation turned out to be quite simple - Morpheus failed to pay their bills. Hence, KaZaA terminated the agreement between the two companies and released version 1.5 which shut Morpheus out for good. Now the only remaining FastTrack clients are KaZaA and Grokster.
The next turn in FastTrack's history is the rise of KaZaA Lite, perpetuated by KaZaA's inclusion of Brilliant Digital's stealth P2P network. The addition of this network, dubbed AltNet, led many to question KaZaA as a trustworthy client. When adware was incorporated into KaZaA and Grokster, it heightened the popularity of "KaZaA Lite" and a similar piece of software called "Clean Grokster".
Both Grokster and KaZaA have been pursuing the sources of this "rouge" software, however Grokster has been particularly aggressive in routing "clean" copies. Websites that hosted "Clean Grokster" and did not comply with cease and desist orders were shut down, as witnessed by UniteTheCows.com.
The ownership of FastTrack is spread among several firms. The original KaZaA ownership (KaZaA BV) sold the software to Sharman networks, however maintained control over the FastTrack protocol. KaZaA BV then licensed the FastTrack technology through another company, called Blastoise, dba Joltid. The following excerpt indicates that FastTrack is a joint venture between Sharman Networks, AltNet (formerly Brilliant Digital) and Joltid (formerly KaZaA BV).
"Blastoise is owned and operated by the developers of the FastTrack P2P technology, the underlying technology which operates the KaZaA and Grokster P2P networks. Blastoise owns the rights to the FastTrack technology. Pursuant to our agreement, Blastoise acquired 49% of the outstanding common stock of Altnet."
As of this writing, the FastTrack network has over 3 million users online at any given time. That's approximately twice as much as Napster did at its peak. FastTrack are still facing a legal showdown with the RIAA and MPAA. They beat back the copyright holders in the Netherlands, can they do the same in the United States? What do you guys think? Post your opinions.