It was in June of 1999 that Napster was first launched by Shawn Fanning. Since that time, the digital landscape has changed immeasurably. Ten years is a lot of time when we consider the technological progress made; prompted in no small part by the push of file-sharing technology. Napster, and the P2P technology that would follow, decimated the music industry and spawned numerous P2P successors.
Napster certainly wasn't the first file-sharing mechanism, nor was it the first P2P network. Filetopia and DirectConnect both preceded Napster. IRC (Internet Relay Chat) and the newsgroups were also popular methods for sharing media. What Napster did, however, was make the concept mainstream. Napster was very intuitive and simplistic - if you could use Google, you can use Napster.
By 2000, Napster was a celebrity. It amassed tens of millions of users worldwide and made the Internet a worthwhile place to visit. Virtually any song imaginable was readily available, thanks to Napster's P2P technology. The concept at the time seemed new; but again, Napster wasn't the precipitous of P2P technology. Users of IRC had been using P2P technology well before Napster came into play.
But Napster was more than just the technology it represented. It challenged the status quo of the music industry. There's little doubt that the music industry tried to stop the tidal wave that was approaching. It tried to stop the launch of the Rio MP3 player without success; and now people not only had a device to listen to MP3s, but a free-for-all avenue to fill that device.
Napster also changed the way people learned about new music. With Napster, discovering new music had an element of adventure; tens of thousands of music oriented chat rooms filled with hundreds or thousands of individuals were sharing countless MP3s. Wanted to discover some new House music? Perhaps a new Metal band? Just make friends with someone and download their collection. Of course, this was quite a task back in the day when 56K was state-of-the-art.
The arrival of mainstream P2P hastened the demise of this digital extension of snail mail. As the popularity of Napster grew, broadband demand skyrocketed. Within a few short years, the demand for digital music and entertainment helped push ISPs to provide fast broadband connections which allowed MP3s to transfer in mere seconds.
Napster, as a free P2P network, wouldn't last long compared to subsequent technology. Metallica sued the company and demanded that over 300,000 users who had been sharing their music be disconnected. Those users’ accounts were suspended, but Metallica was the least of Napster’s problems. The RIAA sued the company as well, and from that point, it was a slow death for the icon known as Napster. Napster was eventually shut down, which paved the way for its reincarnation as an authorized music store.
While it’s true that authorized music sources have gained in popularity, they have not stopped the staggering losses suffered by the music industry. Killing Napster did nothing to stop P2P technology – there are more people online sharing all kinds of files than ever before. Instead of using Napster, technologies such as BitTorrent have taken over as the distribution mechanism of choice.
Is it too late for the music industry? The brick and mortal distribution method is on its death bed; CDs are just so 1985. Digital sales do show some potential, but the music industry as we know it is long gone. There are exciting times ahead thanks to Napster, but it seems the music industry is on the wrong side of what the future is going to bring...
I used to use Napster back in college, then Morpheus and on wards.