cyberspacial musings
bits about the real and virtual worlds

23 May

MP3 On Usenet

You may have noticed that I tend to post two articles at a time. I guess it’s like eating potato chips — just can’t write one.

I received an e-mail today talking about the stream of MP3s flying through Usenet. I’ve never particularly cared for Usenet as a means of distributing files — they always come in pieces and it’s generally a pain in the neck to deal with. However, it brings a different paradigm to the quest for MP3s.

Usually when folks use Kazaa or Morpheus or Limewire (my choice) for retrieving MP3s, the process is based on a search for something in particular. So I’ll pop open Limewire and search for the latest Hole song or something similar. But that often leaves me unsatisfied. It’s not just that I have to have all of the Hole songs, but the process doesn’t really allow me to browse the way I might in a music store. Even though I don’t always get to hear every song on a CD, I like the idea of seeing what’s new, listening to a sample and then acquiring an entire disc. I’ve purchased a few clunkers, but most of the time a sample or two leads me to enjoyment of the entire disc.

But listening to the radio is really a cumbersome process for acquiring the latest music. First of all, none of the stations actually tell you what they are playing anymore. If you go to the station’s website, you may find a song list, but often there’s no audio to go along with it to help you match up. And then you still don’t know what’s on the rest of the disc.

So I just started playing around with retrieving MP3s from Usenet. It’s interesting to see what’s posted — a combination of complete CDs and single songs. Often the songs are organized into a collection, like 80s music. A tool like Newsbin can download all of the pieces of a larger file and assemble the results so you don’t have to mess with that yourself.

I did a quick surf to alt.binaries.sounds.mp3.1980s just to sample what was there. In the initial look, I saw entire discs for Concrete Blonde, the Ramones, the Smithereens, the Pretenders, and a couple of hundred tunes in someone’s “80s Excellent Music” collection. In short, there were easily 2 GB of files ready to download. (For those of us who grew up on 80s music, it was a walk down memory lane.) And that’s just one group that I looked at.

You could fill up terabytes with the music that people have posted there and because Usenet is highly decentralized, it will also be virtually impossible to stop the posts. I’ll avoid the diatribe about business models and the record industry here (already did that in previous posts), but in all seriousness, you could conceivably download more music than you could ever listen to just by pulling everything off of Usenet. Now there’s an interesting thought. Something like Newsbin could actually just sit and automatically download music — if you have a fast enough connection, you’d be up to your ears (pun intended) forever.

I’m sure this isn’t news to many of you, but it seemed interesting to me for another reason also — the recording industry hasn’t successfully shut down Usenet (not really possible anyway) or prosecuted ISPs for maintaining MP3s on their news servers. Why not? Usenet might still be considered a sacred cow on the Internet, but that usually doesn’t stop the brainiacs at the RIAA. Maybe it isn’t on their radar yet, with easier tools available. I’m not sure why, but it leads to the conclusion that if Usenet is okay to optimize access to content by distributing it through a network of servers world wide, why wouldn’t the notion of “superpeer” nodes on peer-to-peer systems be just as legitimate? Or peer systems in general?

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