By Richard Menta- 7/20/01
There it was in black and white, actually blue and white, the number one download on CNet's Download.com site was MusicCity Network's Morpheus with over 1 million downloads. What was second? Fellow Napster clone Audiogalaxy Satellite with 977,868 downloads.
That is not all, looking at the top 10 list of the most trafficked downloads on CNet show that Napster alternatives captured 6 out of the top 10 spots. That tells a whole story right there, especially since these numbers only show the download traffic from the most recent week (Morpheus has a total of 5,299,869 downloads on CNet so far).
Ever since Napster started filtering songs from its service, users began exploring alternative file trade programs. Some of these programs proved challenging to use (Newtella: see review), others did a very good job of recreating the original Napster experience (Morpheus: see review). Several of these services like Morpheus and iMesh didn't limit themselves to just MP3 files, they expanded into text and video trades also, offering the user a wider variety of content to explore.
All of these programs are now developing the last piece in the puzzle that they need to challenge in the space once occupied by Napster alone. An audience, or more specifically, a large active audience that increases the assortment and diversity of available song files and other desired content.
Napster's shutdown has only hastened the rush to replace it. Due to return soon as a pay service, this flood to alternatives seems to spell rejection to details of Napster's upcoming subscription persona. Vox populi? The people are indeed speaking through their actions.
A year back we said that Napster's death would probably do more to change the status quo of the music industry, both traditional and online, than while alive. Napster has only been playing dead for the last few weeks and already the explosion has rippled through the Net and - as the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) is slow to realize - the record industry.
RIAA president Hillary Rosen cheered triumphantly, almost tauntingly, a week ago when Judge Patel ordered that Napster will remain shutdown until it could reach 100% perfection in its filtering endeavors. It seemed almost that Rosen was oblivious to what Napster's shutdown was unleashing and that the reversal of Judge Patel's order last Wednesday was the least of her problems.
Maybe she is confident that the Napster rulings will set a precedent that will make it easier to stop these alternative services too. She shouldn't. First, because these services have intentionally designed themselves to be different from Napster, avoiding a centralized server that opens them up to focused litigation. Second, many of these services have set themselves up overseas and out of the reach of US law.
IMesh is based in Israel. Morpheus and KaZaa use the Dutch FastTrack technology. OpenNap servers are looking to set up shop on an ocean platform called Sealand where many offshore Net gambling sites have settled. How will the RIAA stop future Napster clones set up in Haiti or the Ivory Coast, invade?
It also may be pointed out that the very Napster she has set out to dispose of has been a member of the traditional record industry for nearly a year now when controlling interest was purchased by the organization's second largest member, Bertelsmann AG. Last June, when Napster joined the MusicNet alliance, it came to terms with two additional major labels, AOL Time Warner and EMI.
The fight in court has evolved from record industry vs. Internet startup to something different, a fight between two competing services the major labels hope to replace Napster with this fall. AOL Time Warner/EMI/ Bertelsmann are on one side with a service called MusicNet. Universal and Sony are on the other with their service PressPlay. Both think they are in a battle over who will control Napster's 70 million users and they believe that the end result of the Napster trial will dictate how that audience is distributed between them.
Except that the majors have fumbled the ball. Their actions instead have released Napster's audience to the wind where these alternative services are vacuuming them up.
Napster no longer has an audience of 70 million to try to draw a paying clientele from. Napster lost those people - even before they shut down - when they disabled all but the latest version of their software (Napster 2.0 beta 10.3), thereby barring everyone from the service who does not upgrade . That means they can no longer claim an audience of 70 million just because that is how many people have some form of the software on their hard drive.
As of this writing, beta 10.3 has only been out a few weeks and seems to have met with minimal interest by users, giving you an idea of what Napster's true audience is now. We contacted Napster to get the number of times Beta 10.3 has been downloaded from all sources, including its own site, but a Napster spokesman said Napster hasn't released that information. Last week only 18,296 people downloaded Napster 2.0 beta 10.3 from CNet. That is equal to only a little over one percent of those who downloaded Morpheus alone from CNet during the same period. All for Napster's "brand" power.
Napster has resorted to announcing that even while the service has been down over one hundred thousand people still use the software each day. Some of those people are simply using the Napster player to listen to songs they have already downloaded. Others now use the Napster client simply as their interface to the Open Nap servers through Napigator. Almost all use versions of Napster that no longer can connect to the service other than to alert the company that people have opened the program. Finally, no one is using (or even can use) the Napster service to trade files anymore. Trading files is a service the Napster clones now perform for the masses.
These clones are also good and getting better. How will Napster get users not only to return but to pay for their service when it comes alive again? Frankly, we just don't know.
There are links to our reviews on these clones below.
Rio Volt Portable CD MP3 Player - The new Volt plays MP3 and WMA files from CD and is available from Amazon
Review: Morpheus (Music City)
Review: BearShare - best of the Gnutella clients
Review: Newtella - mediocre Gnutella client at best.