“Share Links” – P2P Revolution or Small Metamorphic P2P Evolution?

There was an interesting posting by DCInteractive which discusses the movement on file-hosting and comparing it to popular file-sharing medium BitTorrent.

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

Is it all hype or is it really a revolution? Drew Wilson provides a personal commentary on the subject.

To provide an extremely brief summary of my experience, I’ve been writing news for about 3 years, but my file-sharing experience dates back to the Napster era. So suffice to say, I’ve developed some knowledge on this area.

While there is no real universal term for what has been described in the commentary since some simply refer to these sites as upload sites among other things, I’ll use the term “Share links” merely for consistency.

Has there ever really been a revolution within the revolution of file-sharing at any time? Many would argue that Napster was the revolution that kicked off the era of file-sharing clear back in 2001 mainly because it pushed file-sharing from the obscure digital underground to the main-stream conscious. It’s a very sound argument that resonates clear to today where it is often a staple description for media to describe how it all began. While this argument has been around for years, other “revolutions” that some might call them really depends more on what one considers a revolution in the first place. Was Kazaa revolutionary for being the first mainstream file-sharing client to be decentralized? Was Lime Wire revolutionary for being the first mainstream open source p2p client? Was eMule revolutionary for it’s serverless Kademlie network or protocol encryption techniques? Was BitTorrent revolutionary for it’s unique tracker/client system? Was Shareaza revolutionary for its multiple network concept? Indeed, there are many advances to be cited in file-sharing, but sometimes what is deemed “revolutionary” is often mainly an advance in one’s preferred client or network. Here, we see this question clearly being raised again with the idea of “share links”.

Still, when one thinks historically on file-sharing, it is sometimes easy to think in a linear fashion (i.e. first Napster, then Kazaa, then BitTorrent – or – first UseNet, then Napster, then Lime wire, then BitTorrent, etc.) when in actual fact, the evolution of file-sharing has been anything but linear. While there were protests on the streets over the downfall of Napster, many were also quietly downloading on UseNet or ICQ. While the URN hash system on Kazaa was getting cracked, many were also sharing on eDonkey2000/eMule and Lime Wire. While Grokster was getting dragged through the US courts, many were searching through others shared folders on Shareaza or chatting in WinMX. This is not denying what was popular, but accepting that there were almost always multiple ways of getting files off of p2p or a p2p-like system.

This also raises the question, do users stick to one network? While there are those that swear by a single network, I find that most users are using multiple networks to get what they want these days. This is particularly the case with those using private BitTorrent websites because if users stuck to one network, invite trading would simply never take place – yet it’s cited as one of the ways that users jump from one site to another (some consider this a way of ‘moving up the chain’) The very nature of BitTorrent demands that every release be a separate network effectively speaking. Each private site can be viewed as a community that encompasses many of these networks. Put it in another way, how many BitTorrent users, especially since the downfall of Suprnova, use one website for their BitTorrent needs and one website only anyway?

So we pretty much established that there has almost always been more than one network in existence at any given time in the file-sharing era and that users are using multiple networks and often multiple protocols. So here comes the existence of “share links”. Is it really revolutionary as DCInteractive describes it? To say that it is new would be greatly mistaken. The earliest kind of service of this nature that I can recall is YouSendIt. According to Wikipedia, YouSendIt was founded in 2004. It’s original intent was to help people send large files over e-mail when e-mail restrictions are extremely tight (i.e. when hotmail had a 4MB restriction – enough to fill a floppy disk basically) Such a service was definitely heaven-send in such circumstances, yet wasn’t exactly meant for file-sharing by any stretch of the imagination. Other similar services popped up like Megaupload (2005) and Rapidshare (2006) – the product of open competition more than anything else.

The concept of sharing these links are probably as old as when the companies were founded in the first place, but weren’t popularized in the file-sharing realm until around 2006 – 2007 when people caught on to the idea. Sites like, often referred to as, “sharity blogs” and forums which allow file-hosting links started cropping up because finding links like these wasn’t exactly as easy as browsing a list of hosted content on the official website. Of course, all this was made a lot easier when people designed search engines which crawled through the internet to try and find these links and put them into a searchable database (in a way, kind of like how NZB files made UseNet significantly easier)

It may be one of the big reasons why file-hosting services have become popular for users, but what about any risk from copyright holders? In fact, there has been some legal battles in 2007 and 2008 between organizations like GEMA (a German Copyright Collective) and Rapidshare where familiar arguments like the web application creator is responsible for copyright infringement (an argument that appeared in the MGM vs. Grokster case and, as recently brought up, the Lime Wire case) While these arguments were flying against file-hosting companies, there doesn’t appear to be a renewed effort against these sites in recent times so far.

Still, for older file-sharing users, the concept may sound familiar – put a file on a server and users download that file from the server. This concept definitely exists with FTP sites that have also been around for a considerable amount of time. Another protocol that goes along with these principles is UseNet which definitely dates back to before Napster became popular. There was also the really old style of bulletin boards which is sometimes cited as the earliest form of file-sharing. So much rather then something new, file-hosting might be more easily seen as a way file-sharing has basically come full circle back to its core roots.

The question remains, though, how popular is this? For the mainstream conscious, it’s not anywhere near as popular as BitTorrent or Lime Wire. Are there a number of people using it? Absolutely. Is it just the next iteration of file-sharing? It’s questionable if it’s just ‘the next big thing’ given that file-sharing’s history is not linear anyway, but it may very well be just another tool in a file-sharers toolbox to get what they want. These days, that toolbox appears to only be getting more and more crowded. This, I think, is excellent news because it just makes the whole file-sharing movement much more robust. You can’t catch ’em all.

Sample from the DCInteractive article:

Share Links as I am calling them are the new era of file sharing on
the Internet. They use the power of the Internet to work for them
instead of relying on other end users. This provides greater bandwidth,
more reliability and much higher completion rates. This revolution has
started in the past year and is growing in popularity tremendously
among Internet users although it has kept below the radar of most
file-sharing e-zines. Majority of the Share Link distributors offer
unlimited amount of uploads usually with a 100-1000mb cap per
individual upload.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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