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Peer-to-Peer Networking For Podcasts and People

By Frank Ahrens
Sunday, May 14, 2006

Morpheus, the popular peer-to-peer file-sharing software, is celebrating its fifth year in existence -- and a bumpy five years it's been -- with a new version allowing users to share podcasts.

Peer-to-peer (P2P) services, such as the original Napster, let Internet users swap files among themselves. They have been a target of the music and motion-picture industries over the past few years as users have employed them to illegally swap copyrighted material, such as songs and films.

The original Napster was shut down by the federal government in 2001. Emboldened, the entertainment industry sued Grokster and a number of P2P services, including Morpheus's maker, StreamCast Networks Inc., shortly thereafter. Last summer, the Supreme Court ruled that such services are liable for the criminal activity of their users. Grokster shuttered in November 2005. (An ominous warning on http://www.grokster.com/ reads: "Your IP address . . . has been logged. Don't think you can't get caught.") Other services settled with the industry and launched legal services. StreamCast also looked to settle but last month said the talks had collapsed and now seeks a jury trial.

During all this, StreamCast pushes onward, embracing podcasting -- recordings of everything from college lectures to garage-band music for use on MP3 players, chiefly, the Apple iPod. Podcasts let users download, say, Rush Limbaugh's daily radio show and play it whenever they want.

The new Morpheus 5.2 lets users upload their audio and video podcasts, search for others on the Web and download them.

For StreamCast, the benefits are obvious: Adding podcasts means more users, and more users means more ad revenue on the free version of its software. Also, perhaps more importantly: fewer copyright problems. Though podcasts are copyrighted like all music and movies generated by labels and studios, most amateur podcastsers do not forbid distribution of their work. Therefore, Morpheus should not get in legal trouble for facilitating their swapping around the Web.

Where the Cool Kids Are

The rapid growth of "social networking" Web sites, such as http://www.myspace.com/ , continues to soar, according to the most recent numbers from Nielsen-NetRatings, released Thursday.

Social networking sites are sort of the next generation of dating sites, such as http://www.match.com/ . They allow users, typically the under-30 crowd, to post profiles but also to talk to each other, listen to music and so on. As my colleague Leslie Walker reported last month, such sites lead the growth in all Internet traffic.

To me, watching these sites boom is a fascinating horse race on the Internet: They tell us who we are. Early on, Internet big brains were sure that the Web was all about e-commerce. But annual growth in online retail is now measured in single digits. Then, the Web was going to be all about marketing. But spam and phishing and countless Nigerian confidence games tainted that for legitimate marketers. What the Web turns out to be all about (shocker) is showcasing the self, and these social-networking sites enable that -- and yes, I do mean enable in a 12-step way.

According to Nielsen, traffic to such sites is up 47 percent in April 2006 compared with April 2005, reaching nearly 70 million users or -- and here is the astonishing part -- 45 percent of all Web users.

The two biggest surges came from MySpace, which grew from 8.2 million users in April 2005 to 38.4 million last month; and MSN Spaces, up from 1.9 million to 7.1 million over the same period.

Things We Like

· http://www.angryalien.com/ : Several 30-second animated versions of famous movies ("Alien," "Star Wars," "Pulp Fiction"), re-enacted by bunnies. As drawn and voiced by Jennifer Shiman and seen on the Starz cable network, the shorts prove at least one point: If every movie pitch can be condensed into three words -- "X meets Y" -- then every movie can be boiled down to 30 seconds. And told with bunnies.

· http://www.ebaumsworld.com/flash/peanutbutter.html : We read in The Post's Sports section on Thursday that a local high school baseball team is chanting a song called "Peanut Butter Jelly Time," which rang a vague bell with us. It's an animation of a dancing banana singing a song so irritatingly infectious it will a) cheer you up and b) ruin your life forever if you let your kids see it. Wikipedia says it dates to the early '00s and hit the edge of the mainstream with an appearance on NBC's "Ed" in 2002. Now, it's being sung in a dugout in Howard County.

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