I’ve got some good news and bad news for everyone worried about the .
Good news: People are ditching older P2P applications like Gnuttella, Limewire and eDonkey in droves.
Bad News: People are moving from these older applications to BitTorrent in bigger droves.
Since my rant on the “Torrent of TV Content” gushing from BitTorrent trackers earlier this year, I’ve been astonished by the growth of the network and the hundreds of sites that support its users.
Despite all the F.U.D. spread by the copyright industries, BitTorrent site administrators continue to put up trackers and build interesting front ends for downloading files. These sites have eclipsed the original application and its website in popularity. When anyone speaks of BitTorrent, they are actually talking about a loose knit amalgam of sites and administrators who account for the vast majority of the traffic on the network. Despite this fact, there has been no attention paid to these administrators and only nasty grams sent to the sites they run.
I really want to know what motivates these administrators to put up and manage a BitTorrent site, how they got started and can they make any money doing it. Rather then wait for CNN to do something interesting I decided to go ahead and just ask for myself. I sent out 10 emails to different BitTorrent administrators telling them a little bit about myself and asking for answers to five simple questions. I got back responses from Yotoshi, isoHunt, Fulldls, NewTorrents and Mininova, providing some insight into the administrators behind some of BitTorrents most popular sites. A summary of these interviews along with my own conclusions can be found below, or simply follow these links for their unaltered response: NewTorrents | isoHunt | FullDL’s | Yotoshi | Mininova
My first question was a bit of softball, it was an obvious attempt to explore the motivations of these admins. Were they your typical nerdy male geeks, lusting after the money, recognition and female adulation, which surly evaded them in real life? No, not really.
The motivations driving folks to create and maintain BitTorrent sites was a lot more complex and ran the gamut from fame to curiosity. However, the one unifying theme I gleaned from their reponses was a desire to have and control a forum through which other BitTorrent site developers would meet and interact. Strangely, even the site admins with over 100 thousand users, indicated that fame was the least interesting of all the side effects of running their site.
The admin of NewTorrents.info put it best when he said: “Hehe, girls – I can’t imagine a girl who would like to date me just because I’m the admin of some torrent site, even if we have all The Sims 2 expansions on the site :-)… Many people think that all torrent sites are here only for money, but this is not true in case of NewTorrents. Of course, it earns something, but if you count the price for bandwidth, server and all these hours you spend updating and administrating it every day, it’s not so good business.”
While many admins may view their sites as a cross between a public service and a hobby, users view them more as an indispensable resource and they tend to get very pissed-off if they go down. Of course these sites do go down, and often. Maintaining and managing massive file indexing sites like these takes a huge amount of time. Unfortunatly I wasnt able to get an answer more specific then that. Even after several follow up emails the best answer remained a rather short one, “depends on [if the] servers behave or not and what mood copyright owners are in (or their agents rather). But it’s a fulltime job.” said isoHunt’s Gary Fung.
“as all media distribution converge… this is an exciting time, and I want to help shape this new market such that consumers will get more freedom and convenience…” – Gary of isoHunt
The admins agreed that the time committed to the site was more then any one individual could do alone and so the sites tended to require the active participation and support of its users for maintenance. From identifying trojans, viruses, fakes and spam to running the forums, answering questions or enforcing the rules, volunteer users did it all.
Another interesting insight to come out of asking how site admins managed their time was the sheer number of side projects these admins mentioned they were involved with. Projects that were often related to BitTorrent but not necessarily a tracker. Was this a strategy to hedge against the ever looming takedown threats by the copyright industries? Or it could simply be the manic activity of curious minds. Either way, if the industry were to take significant legal steps against the tracker site admins, it would be initiate a game of wack-a-mole for which the site admins are well prepared and the industry isnt.
Keeping with the theme of trying to better understand the profile of the average BitTorrent site admin and their motivations I asked a couple of questions about their technical background and was again surprised by the number of non-techies in the group. I thought sure the response would be littered with programmers and coders spewing tech jargon, instead it seemed more like script-kiddies floored by their own popularity. “Gregory” of Yotoshi said “Before this… I didn’t even know what Linux was to be honest, but that was 4 years ago now.” This response was typical and although the starting point for the admins was different the fact that they all developed the majority of their knowledge while building their sites speaks to the ease with which new distributors can enter the market.
Gary Fung from isoHunt says “[I started as] a newbie, not as much now. I wrote isoHunt.com. I started it as a learning exercise – I find developing Internet technologies fascinating.” If isoHunt, one of the largest BitTorrent search engines, was started by a guy just trying to teaching himself coding then what are the “real coders” cooking up?
As the technology get simpler, and it will, and more non-technical people join the P2P distribution game, the copyright industries generally (and media companies specifically) need to start developing strategies that deal with this future rather then trying to sue it out of existence.
When I asked about what made a BitTorrent site admin lose sleep, the answers where varied and yet carried an obvious theme. They ranged from the defiant response of Martin of NewTorrents “I sleep well. I really don’t have to fear [anything so much that it keeps me] awake at night”. To the more direct response of Gary from isoHunt who said, “Copyright issues. As you might be aware, the MPAA is suing me [info here]“. Only one admin, MadnesS of Fulldls didnt mention copyrights at all in his response. In his view the real fear was… “Downtime. It’s the worst nightmare of any growing-website admin.” he said. Bravado aside, copyright and the legal questions facing these sites is the biggest threat to their growth and continued existence. However despite this threat it was clear that it wasnt a limiting factor in either their time commitment or development plans.
Given the unique vantage point of BitTorrent admins, I asked them what had surprised them about the their sites or the behaviors of its users. The theme that they all expressed was the steadily increasing popularity of the their sites and engagement of their users. Gary of isoHunt expressed it this way; “The sheer size and growth of the P2P and file distribution market. The largest BitTorrent websites, isoHunt.com included, are among the 500 largest websites in the world with millions of visitors per month. This is beyond what I expected when I started isoHunt, and there are studies that shows BitTorrent accounting for over half of all bandwidth use on the entire Internet.” There is clearly no putting the genie back in the jar for any of the copyright industries, and learning to tap into this engagement, along with the needs that drive it, is fast becoming a critical survival skill.
Of the many things that media companies havent done well in managing the transition to an all digital world is listening to the people on the vanguard of that transition. Often with their heads buried firmly in the sand, media companies have steadfastly ignored the desires of their audience and consumers in favor self-serving (and ultimately self-defeating) business models. Understanding why your audience is now flocking to your free digital competitors (dubiously legal though they may be) starts with first trying to understand who your competition is. I hope this little introduction helps.