Peering Into Cyberspace - EMusician

Peering Into Cyberspace

Peer-to-peer file sharing has become a controversial subject. Napster and its successors have fostered a new type of digital community, which is built
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Peer-to-peer file sharing has become a controversial subject. Napster and its successors have fostered a new type of digital community, which is built around the sharing and swapping of digital assets. The very existence of this frontier zone — much of it beyond the easy reach of legislation, litigation, or digital-rights management — has sparked an ongoing battle over the control of digital media. • It is just plain wrong to steal somebody else's possessions. It is every bit as wrong to redistribute copies of people's work — such as music, video, or software — without their consent. EM serves content creators and copyright owners; we always support our readers, our advertisers, and the companies we cover as they attempt to protect (and profit from) their hard-earned intellectual property. • At the same time, it is easy to see substantial legitimate and beneficial uses for peer-to-peer file sharing. Some software programmers write freeware or shareware programs that are meant to be given away and spread around. Likewise, many musicians actively choose to share their music, posting free MP3 files on Web sites to promote their acts and garner new fans. High-traffic file-sharing networks have created a big opportunity for creators to get their work out into the world.

This article is about maximizing that opportunity. I'll discuss general ways of increasing upload traffic (such as the number of files you are distributing) that are applicable to any peer-to-peer network and then look at some specific techniques for working with the most heavily traveled systems. But first, why would you want to share files?

TAKING IT TO THE STREETS

Taking your music to where the people are is a timeless strategy. Performers have traditionally set up in the town square or other public spaces and performed to the passing crowds. These days you see buskers in the subway or at the local bookstore.

The largest Internet music crowds are in the file-sharing space, looking for songs. Most are just music fans and computer enthusiasts who live off the land, so to speak. But although many people who swap files just want a free ride, there are still opportunities for copyright owners to make legitimate use of these public file-sharing venues and to enforce their copyrights.

It boils down to this: unknown artists can easily and routinely distribute as many as 100 songs per day through file-sharing networks. Ask yourself: are you getting those kinds of hits on your band's Web site or MP3.com page? If you handle it right, this exposure can pay off directly in additional Web-site traffic, press reviews, gigs, and CD sales.

BEING A GOOD HOST

Each computer in a peer-to-peer network can be a client and a server. Users designate one or more shared folders, which contain files other users can access. Peer-to-peer software handles the file-serving tasks and provides a search-engine function that lets users find and download files from other users' computers.

There are some simple things you can do when running a server to increase network exposure and get more traffic.

Have a fast, current computer

Macintosh users should be on a G3 or G4; Windows users want a Pentium III or 4 (or comparable) processor. RAM and hard disks are cheap, so bulk up! Relics belong in museums; you need a real computer.

Get broadband

Transferring a typical three-minute MP3 file can take as long as half an hour over a 56 kbps modem. With a cable modem or DSL, it's just a couple of minutes. Nobody wants to download from servers that are on dial-up connections; people gravitate toward hosts that are on cable, DSL, or T1 lines.

Leave the computer on

Stay logged in. People won't find your files if the computer is turned off, if you have disconnected from the Internet, or if a file-sharing program is not running.

Maintain a reliable, stable system

If the computer crashes, nobody can get at your files. Perform maintenance and file-repair routines on a regular basis, remove unneeded programs, and make sure you're properly backed up so you can reinstall the operating system and get a fresh start when things get shaky.

One network at a time

You'll probably just crash if you try to run more than one peer-to-peer file-sharing program at any given time. Rotate between several popular networks for optimum reach.

THE NAME GAME

In a simple peer-to-peer search engine, the user sends a query by typing a word or phrase into the search tool and the results, called query hits, are returned to the user. This list of results shows all of the available files on the network that include the word or phrase in the file name.

Song files typically have names that contain the name of the artist, song title, and album title; for example:

artist name_album title_song title.mp3

If acts are not well known, chances are slim that someone will search for them by “artist name.” If they don't already have a hit record, it is unlikely that anyone is looking for their song or album title. So where does that leave you?

People who have done Web design are probably familiar with keywords, which are words or phrases that are included in a page for the purpose of getting more search-engine hits. I'll apply the keyword idea to song files, for the purpose of hitting more queries.

EVERYBODY IS A STAR

If you, any member of your group, or even your sideman have played with well-known acts, you can harness that star power. Make a copy of your audio file and rename it something like:

band name_song title_featuring famous player_former group name.mp3

That's a long name for a sound file, but Windows will allow it. Mac users must resort to placing long descriptive titles in ID3v2 tags or creating folders with those names, which is something Windows users should also do. (See the sidebar “Using Folders.”)

Along the same lines, maybe you or your group is produced, engineered, or otherwise assisted by someone with worthwhile credits. If so, work that connection! Make another copy of your song, and give it a name such as:

band name_song title_recorded by_also recorded group one_also recorded group two.mp3

Now your song files will appear in searches for the artists, groups, or individuals that you are associated with. Many variations on this affiliate-naming scheme can be worked, such as “on tour with …,” “protégé of …,” and “former roadies for …”

To take things a step further, try affinity naming. You can have file names that include your city, state, or region. You can also include musical genre or style in the file name. You may even make mention of unrelated but possibly similar-sounding acts. For example:

if you like the beach boys, jefferson airplane, mothers of invention, captain beefheart, or wild man fischer_download band name_song title.mp3

You've spammed into the query space of prominent, albeit unrelated, artists. Hopefully, your act sounds something like the bands you're piggybacking.

Another approach is to create file names that make use of common search terms; for example:

download band name_song title_new_anime_windows xp_simpsons.mp3

I've seen a lot of content online with this type of spam-packed name. Check out www.gnutellameter.com for a current list of the most popular query terms on the Gnutella network. When labeling files, label the Desktop folders and metadata Tags (see the sidebar “Data About Metadata.”)

PEER SOFT TWEAKS

Running a reliable server and thoroughly naming and tagging your shared files will increase your uploads into any peer network. What's more, each file-sharing program has settings you can fine-tune to hot-rod its performance.

FastTrack

Created by a team of Europeans, the FastTrack network is better known by the names of its client applications: Morpheus, Kazaa, and Grokster. Boasting an installed base of more than 60 million copies (according to figures at CNET's www.download.com), FastTrack is the most popular file-sharing network, eclipsing Napster's one-time reported peak of 50 million units. (As with all “installed-units” figures, the actual number of users is more like half or a quarter of the number reported, as most users wind up installing the program multiple times.)

Morpheus, Kazaa, and Grokster are virtually identical programs, and all participate on the same network. Choose any one of the three and stick with it; you don't need to install or run multiple FastTrack programs on the same machine. I'll just refer to Morpheus in this article for the sake of convenience, but the following information applies equally to Kazaa and Grokster.

FastTrack uses the concept of SuperNodes, a way of indexing the network in a distributed fashion. The FastTrack software looks for users with the best setups and appoints those machines to create lists of content found on computers nearby. Users can opt in or out of becoming SuperNodes.

For optimum hosting, select Options in Morpheus's Tools menu. In the Options dialog, click on the Traffic tab. The Bandwidth settings are there — set the Maximum Number of Simultaneous Uploads to Unlimited.

At the bottom of the Traffic tab is a checkbox called Disable Sharing of Files with Other Morpheus Members; make sure it is not selected because you do intend to share files.

Next, under the Options dialog's Advanced tab (see Fig. 1), set the Maximum Bandwidth to Unlimited; that keeps the upload throttle wide open when transferring files to other Morpheus members.

Finally, under the Tools menu, select Find Media to Share. That opens the File Import dialog. Click on the Folder List tab and navigate through your file structure to select the music folders you intend to share.

Audiogalaxy

Created by a group in Texas, Audiogalaxy is arguably the No. 2 — ranked file-sharing network, with 28 million copies installed. Audiogalaxy is a music service — you don't find software or videos here.

A small client application (known as a file agent), called the Audiogalaxy Satellite, is downloaded and run on members' computers. A somewhat cumbersome Web interface (viewed through Netscape Navigator or Microsoft Internet Explorer) provides search and community features, such as member bios, message boards, and member playlists. For a peer-to-peer network, Audiogalaxy is fairly centralized. Like Napster, there is a central server that indexes users' collections as well as the audio files at Audiogalaxy's own Web site.

Audiogalaxy Satellite must be running for file sharing to occur from your computer. To specify which folders are to be shared, select Edit Shares from the Audiogalaxy Satellite File menu and then add the desired folders.

Next, go into the Options menu and select Bandwidth Throttle. Move the slider bar all the way to the right to select More Bandwidth (But Faster). Note that downloading from Audiogalaxy is limited to one file at a time, unless you have agreed to share 25 or more files.

Audiogalaxy has a hosting service that provides space on its own server. It allows musicians to continuously share their authorized files, even when their individual computers are offline. At one time, there was a Web-based interface, and musicians could easily upload songs to the server, quickly establishing an official presence on Audiogalaxy.

Unfortunately, the upload mechanism has been eliminated; a company representative says it was too much work and expense to maintain and suggests that musicians simply host from their own computers. However, bands can still apply for Audiogalaxy hosting in a retro fashion: send a CD to an address in Texas and then wait some number of weeks or months for the music to be approved, digitized, and uploaded — not exactly a step in the right direction.

Gnutella

First devised by rogue elements within America Online (AOL), Gnutella was promptly reverse engineered and improved upon by an array of participants. Although the original Gnutella program is no longer in general circulation, its descendants use the network protocol that continues to bear its name. The most popular Gnutella network clients are BearShare and LimeWire, with 10 million and 7 million installed units, respectively.

The Gnutella network has no central server, and it establishes a distributed, branching structure. Any single computer is visible to the five or ten computers to which it is directly connected, the next five or ten computers each of those machines are connected to, and so on, up to a limited number of hops (a hop is a direct host-to-host connection).

Although a quarter-million computers may be running Gnutella-compatible applications at any time, each machine can reach only roughly 2,000 to 10,000 other computers at a given time.

The Gnutella protocol has a feature called Time to Live (TTL) that determines the number of hops each query (or query hit) can propagate along the network. If queries had unlimited TTL, they would recirculate endlessly, and the network could quickly gridlock. The TTL settings directly affect the length of your computer's reach within the network. Increasing TTL lets more computers find your content and allows you to search further downstream.

BearShare offers a great deal of customization, and although there are many controls, they're a little spread out and there is no documentation for some of those controls are not documented. BearShare spokespeople approved the following recommendations, yet they repeatedly refused to explain their TTL implementation:

Open the BearShare Setup dialog and select the Sharing tab. Deselect and disable the parameter called Limit the Number of Results to _____ Results per Search. Next, for Ignore Searches with Less than _____ Characters, set the value to 1.

Click on the Uploads tab (see Fig. 2) and find Allow up to _____ Uploads at a Time, with No More than _____ per Person. Input the maximum value 999 in both fields. Then, deselect (uncheck) Limit the Total Bandwidth Used by Uploads and select (check) Make Shared Files Available to Web-Based Search Engines. Still in the Setup dialog, go to the Service tab and check on Always Accept Incoming Service Connections.

In the Advanced tab set the Message TTL, Agent TTL, and Max Hops to ten. FreePeers, the maker of BearShare, recommends not altering the TTL settings, but I say go for it.

Under the Connection tab, select the appropriate connection speed from the Network Interface section. Now you can close the Setup dialog and go to the Hosts panel. In Hosts, make sure that Automatic is checked on and select appropriate Minimum/Maximum Hosts values. Modem users should try 5/5; DSL users can crank it up to 25/25 before running into bandwidth issues. Values as high as 999 are allowed, but even settings well under 100 can leave you in an unstable condition, possibly resulting in the crashing or freezing of your computer. Finally, go to the Uploads panel and make sure that Share Files is checked on.

LimeWire is noteworthy for its short “warm-up” period and Mac OS version. A company official says Gnutella is working on a distributed local-indexing feature, similar to FastTrack's SuperNodes, that would be the first of its kind in the Gnutella network. The feature is called Ultrapeers and should be online by the time you read this.

LimeWire hides its TTL settings but has other useful controls and should be configured thusly: in the Monitor panel, check on Incoming Searches to enable people to find your content. In the Connections panel, input the highest allowable value in the Keep Approximately _____ Connections Up data-entry field.

Then, under the Tools menu, select the Options Dialog. Under the Uploads section (see Fig. 3), enter the highest allowable value, 999999, for Max Upload Slots. Place the Upload Bandwidth at 100 percent.

Finally, under the Options Dialog's Advanced section (in the Preferencing area), find Files You Must Share to Not Be a Freeloader. Set that to zero, because you want to let everyone get your files, including freeloaders. Under the Allow Freeloaders option, move the slider to Always.

IMesh

Out of Israel comes iMesh, which claims it has 19 million installed units and 7 million “registered” users. IMesh is the least stable of the prominent file-sharing systems. Moreover, version 2.20 could not be uninstalled from the computers that I tested it with. I alerted iMesh to the problems, but the company did not respond.

IMesh has a simplified set of controls. From the Preferences menu, open the Options dialog and select the Upload panel. Set Maximum concurrent uploads to 99, the highest allowable value. Next, in the Share section, make sure Allow Other Users to View All My Shared Files is checked on. After that, go to the Connection display to select your modem type.

DON'T FORGET THE URL

Here are two final suggestions applicable to any file-sharing network as well as conventional Web-site downloading or streaming:

The Windows Media Encoder and the WinRip Studio MP3 encoder allow you to add URL scripts to audio files. URL scripts cause Web pages to open automatically whenever a file is played (in a supported player). The use of URL scripts can directly convert shared files into additional Web traffic each time that the file is played. (Windows Media Encoder URL scripts are covered in detail in “Desktop Musician: Power Windows,” in the February 2002 issue.)

Also, always make sure to include your Web site URL somewhere in the metadata when you're tagging songs: ID3v2 includes a dedicated URL field; in ID3v1 you can use the Comment field. It won't launch a pop-up, but it could help somebody find you. After all, helping people find you and your music is what it's all about.

Todd Souvignieris a cofounder of Exploit Systems, Inc. (www.exploitsystems.com) and wrote the second edition of Musician's Guide to the Internet, forthcoming from Hal Leonard Corp.

DATA ABOUT METADATA

Compressed audio files can include metadata. Metadata means “data about data” and refers to optional text fields included in a file header. These text fields can contain the song title, album title, artist name, copyright information, detailed track descriptions, and even URLs.

The metadata in MP3 files is called ID3 Tags. There are two types of ID3 Tag: ID3v1 and ID3v2 (see Fig. A). ID3v2 allows far more description, including composer information and URL. Most MP3 encoders let you populate these fields with custom information of your choosing. It's somewhat time-consuming — you need to tag your files by hand — but fortunately, the data is retained when the file is copied.

The more advanced peer-to-peer systems search through metadata as well as file names. Diligently filling out tags is as important as naming your files correctly.

USING FOLDERS

Some file-sharing applications look at the names of shared folders, as well as the files contained within, and will return query hit results that include the folder names. If your shared folders are called Music or My Shared Files, they aren't helping you market and distribute your work. Certain peer-to-peer networks, such as Audiogalaxy, expect subfolders to be labeled with artist or band names. Greg Bildson, CTO and COO at LimeWire, suggests creating a folder called NewArtist in your shared directory. He says, “This will allow general searches for new-artist material.”