Is P2P Losing Its Cool In Canada?

There was some recent comments being made at the CRTC hearing by BitTorrent that suggests that p2p user has been going down. Michael Geist discussed the point suggesting that this is further evidence to deflate the myth that Canada is a piracy haven. While this is definitely true, BitTorrents comments also seems to highlight something many already heavily involved in p2p really don’t think about very often – the very thought of p2p use in decline.

Note: This is an article I wrote that was published elsewhere first. It has been republished here for archival purposes

This isn’t the first time indicators started popping up that the roaring success of P2P has died down in recent times. In February, we noted that ISP traffic use growth had dropped by 45%. So what could plausibly be the cause in the cool down of the popularity of p2p in the first place? We explore some of the possibilities.

1. Mainstream Is Boring

The first immediate thing that comes to mind as to why p2p traffic would be in decline is that the content produced today isn’t as exciting now as it was 5 – 10 years ago. In music, there were entire lists of bands that pretty much everyone got excited about. When bands like Nirvana, Bloodhound Gang, AC/DC, Metallica, Evanescence, Blink 182, Linkin Park, Guns N’ Roses they were much more than, ‘well, kinda cool’, just about everyone and their neighbours knew about them at bare minimum and many lamented some of these artists as defining icons of a certain era of music. Now, a younger generation often ends up being drawn to the underground death metal movement, being somewhat enthused about the latest top 40 artists, or just dumping todays music altogether, not finding anything they like. In part, it could be blamed on the diversity of music that is accessible today, or it could be blamed on a general lack of enthusiasm toward music save for a few relics of an era of the past. Many might hold on tight to a small collection of music in their iPod and basically be done with it. It’s either that or the sampling of people I’ve spoken to was a freak sampling.

On the movie side of things, many have complained about the decline of the quality of movies. One of the more often mentioned reasons for not watching movies is the old line how movies are too formulaic. This is certainly a far cry from the hugely experimental movie, “Pulp Fiction” which turned a plot’s time line on its head. During the movie writers strikes, some movie writers complained how if a movie fell too far off a certain formula, it would never get funding – thus stopping writers from taking risks with movies and probably making them experiment less. Another side to look at this was the sequel fever that seemed to sweep the movie scene a year or two ago. Every movie was either a sequel, a re-imagination or a spin-off of an old defunct TV series. Disney was one of the culprits releasing sequels to Lion King, Cinderella and countless others (this isn’t even touching the ‘re-mastering’ or ‘digital restoration’ that hits TV screens periodically) Then there’s the tried tested and true, “Make it have cool graphics and it’ll sell method” – the Star Wars sequel trilogy being a series that really kicked the CGI into overdrive and leaving major other parts of the movie behind. There have been numerous comments by movie theatre owners in the past where ticket sales have gone down.

Turning to television, there’s been a number of suggestions that point to how TV revenue has gone down. The genre of television that has been most popular as of late seems to frequently be news stations. Many I’ve talked to seem to back this up saying how “I just flick on the TV to watch the news”. Outside notable clips being posted on YouTube, not many really download newscasts regularly outside of the Daily Show and the Colbert Report. I would argue that it all started with the original airing of Survivors first season where when ratings shot through the roof, TV execs likely salivated at the potential revenue streams, cancelling shows like Star Trek and putting in TV shows like Big Brother, Trading Spaces and all 6 million spin-offs of trading spaces. Some may remember a time when you were glued to the television set, watching countless hours of TV where one interesting show was on after the next. Now, it’s more like watching the odd show that sits on a 1 or 2 hour time span.

Then there’s the other factor – the gaming industry. Not only producing games that drive content consumers away from other industries, but producing games like World of Warcraft and other similar non-stop games that is never really over. There has even been the odd report here and there of people dying because they exhaust themselves playing certain games. If you manage to get the game once, there is usually only firmware updates to get afterwards. Maybe many users are too busy gaming to be heavy 24/7 p2p users.

All that could be one plausible explanation of why p2p has been seemingly going down hill over the years.

2. Non-p2p Sources of Getting Content Gnawing Away at p2p’s Popularity

When someone downloads hundreds of thousands of tracks, there has to be some way to store it. Sometimes, you read the odd comment here and there that it takes Terabytes of storage just to store (typically losslessly encoded) all those music files. This is not a problem if you are on YouTube. You search for a song, you get to stream it, then your done whenever you are done listening to the song. Other streaming sites as well have been noted for being popular and gaining at p2p’s expense. A number of users, as noted by Deadmau5, are becoming less concerned about quality of music and more about getting that song in any form. This is great news for streaming services, bad news for people concerned about quality control.

Then there’s the another, often under-reported phenomenon that might be chewing away at P2P’s popularity, the one-click hoster. Indeed, sites like Rapidshare have been notable in becoming an alternative source for content and it’s technically not considered p2p traffic at all, but rather a sort of server to peer system where users download directly off of mass servers. Technically speaking, it’s far more efficient than any p2p network because the process is far more simple at the end of the day. BitTorrent, for instance, you are connecting to a number of peers in a network that can contain thousands. Information is communicated to the tracker while you download directly off of other people’s hard drives that file/s in question. On a server, you connect to one thing, download that file, and your pretty much done. Great news for ISPs because there’s less bandwidth overhead involved even though networks like BitTorrent are quite efficient.

Then there’s UseNet. While technically a form of p2p to some extent, servers are still storing the files in question. Many are becoming more paranoid about their security and opting to pay the access fees to use the premium newsgroup services to get their content. Of course, all one has to do is submit guides to Digg to see the onslaught of users trying to keep the content off of the front page to see how popular UseNet actually is.

3. The Authenticity of File-Sharing Isn’t What it Use to Be

If you’ve been around the age of Napster, you might be able to appreciate just how authentic it was to download a song you’ve wanted. The whole concept of downloading music for free on the internet was, for quite a while, something of an amazing phenomenon that could usher in a new era of thinking about content in general. Indeed it has, but ten years later, can you get the same reaction you got back then now when you say, “Did you know you could download music on the internet?” Now, it’s old hat for many in certain age groups. Downloading music for free on the internet is nothing new and it has become more like drinking water in terms of authenticity. In fact, in a number of cases, one could get a similarly enthusiastic response between, “Did you know you could download music online?” and “Did you know you could drink water from the tap?” So what?

Maybe, combined with our first theory, p2p is losing it’s appeal because it’s nothing new and people might even do p2p less because of it.

4. Try Before You Buy

This is an extremely old concept that has been used to defend p2p for years. In fact, many people in the scene have used it as well for somewhat different reasons. Of course, for some trying before they are buying was a little bit difficult as it was a younger generation experiencing the effect of p2p. Of course, that was 2001 or 2002. If you were born in 2001, you’d be 8 or 9 years old by now. If you were 15 then, you’d be 23 or 24 years old now. Numerous people I happen to know in the p2p world are either getting close to graduation or are graduating and attempting to either get a higher paying job or are trying to keep it in the turmoils caused by the stock bubble bursting for the second time toward the end of 2008 which started in the housing sector. Bottom line, there’s a difference in pay between being a student and being out in the field with a degree most of the time. While heavy in debt most of the time, there’s sometimes room for a CD or two here and there. It’s different when you look at a price tag of a CD and you’re making minimum wage and going to school then when you’re making $20 an hour with student loans people constantly on your case. A report we posted a few days ago where music revenues are going up could help back up this theory. Disposable income is easier obtain after graduating. Why bother downloading it when you have the spare money to get it yourself?

Maybe you could go as far as to say that there is the odd scene notice that does have an impact on p2p users.

Miscellaneous Possibilities

Another theory one could draw up is the fact that more p2p users are using encryption. Often, this is just to thwart attempts at throttling by ISPs, but the traffic is always there even if it can’t be identified. While such methods could make tracking trends more difficult, this doesn’t necessarily explain the overall drop in traffic increases though.

It’s also entirely possible that users are much smarter about what they download. Before, fakes and bogus files have been a huge problem in the p2p community (particularly in the decline of the Kazaa days). Now, identifying fake files is easier with report systems built into the clients such as e-Mule or built in to the large amounts of p2p sites in existence today. If one downloaded a fake file, they’d have to find another source to re-download it, doubling the traffic. If one were to get the correct file the first time more frequently, in theory, the bandwidth used would go down accordingly.

One theory someone else presented to me a while back was the fact that the back catalogue has already been downloaded. All the songs that were under promoted before by the industry had been already downloaded by those who were interested by now so there are less reasons to be downloading.

A less plausible theory could be the disenchantment of private BitTorrent sites by some users. Users have to maintain a sharing ratio and some report being banned from their favourite sites in spite of a good ratio. Some may even leave private BitTorrenting and p2p altogether.

Another possibility could be that people are losing their jobs and, therefore, can’t afford an internet connection at all. It’s harder to download what you like when you are too broke to pay for that internet connection in the first place.


It’s really difficult to imagine the p2p phenomenon not perpetually getting more and more popular when you surround yourself with people equally enthusiastic about file-sharing. Surprisingly, one could look to a basic economic concept to generalize some of the reasons p2p would be in decline – market saturation. If a given market is saturated, it cannot continue to grow at a frantic pace as it will eventually just level off much like a fire burning through most of its fuel.

Who knows what the main culprit would be if p2p is in decline. It could be for a number of reasons we mentioned or it could be something else entirely. Obviously, the copyright industry wouldn’t be enthusiastic over the concept given the main push to restrict copyright is to say that people are downloading more and buying less (how much does the argument deflate when the opposite becomes true in the first place?) P2P enthusiasts are more than willing to talk about how popular file-sharing is. ISPs are more than willing to say how popular p2p is as it helps them argue for being able to throttle their users. Not many people left who are willing to admit that p2p could be declining in popularity.

Still, it hardly means the end of p2p. File-sharing could be nearing the end of exponential growth, but by far not the end given that a newer generation is probably willing to pick up where others have left off. Of course, all of this is just a possible thing that could be happening in the p2p world. Do you think it’s possible that p2p could be losing its growth in popularity or even declining in popularity somewhat?

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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