Gig.com Sounds Out Music-Hosting Play

Gig, a San-Franscisco start-up is planning to provide backend music storage and authentication services to "music service providers," which in turn will provide streaming or downloadable digital music to consumers.

Gig.com is thinking big.

The San Francisco start-up, hoping to tap the Napster-induced online music craze, has set out to build the world's most massive jukebox. Essentially, the company's plan applies the concept of Internet content distribution technologies to digital media files.

Here's the idea: Gig will provide back-end music storage and authentication services to "music service providers," which in turn will provide streaming or downloadable digital music to consumers.

Albert Chen, Gig's 27-year-old founder, president and chief executive, estimates that there are probably about 1 million unique songs that have been released on CDs. By hosting a giant array of content servers that contain virtually every song ever recorded, Gig can achieve economies of scale and efficiently pipe music to multiple consumer-oriented music services.

"Music is the next killer app on the Internet," Chen says. "But to turn on a music service really fast, you need a highly scalable infrastructure, which is what we're building."

But don't get the wrong idea: It isn't Chen's intent for Gig to be another Napster, the renegade music-trading service that's waging a court fight to stay open. A central feature of Gig's service is that it allows content providers to manage access to the songs.

Gig first ensures that a user has the appropriate privileges before he or she can access any songs. Then, to pro-vide access to the file, the Gig system sends the user a URL that has an embedded "token," a unique identifier that allows one-time access to the song and prevents someone from sending out the URL to others.

Gig plans to sell its services to portals and other Web companies, charging 1 cent to 2 cents per megabyte of music delivered over its network. The 40-person company has lined up InnoGear, which sells an MP3 player module and other products for Handspring devices, as one of its first customers.

So how does one provide scalable access to a million-song database, especially if users are streaming the songs over the network? Gig is using Digital Islands' Footprint content distribution network, which has about 1,200 servers around the world. Gig maintains a global directory of every media file in the network, and uses an algorithm to figure out which server will provide the best response time for a given user. "We minimize the number of hops between the content and the user," Chen says.

Gig - the name is a play on "gigabyte" and "gig," as in a musical gig - is starting out with small steps. The first version of its service provides a virtual personal storage locker to which users can upload their own files. Starting in the fall, Gig will provide additional management and music-delivery services. The company also plans to provide client software to allow users to transfer music files, and has a license to use file transfer technology from Connected, an online backup service provider.

However, while Gig will provide the infrastructure to distribute music, it won't actually handle the contractual side of licensing content. Each individual customer will need to negotiate content-licensing deals with record companies.

Ben Schiller, an analyst at London-based consulting firm Net Profit, says Gig seems to have a strong offering for Web companies. "People will want a virtual place to store their digital assets, like music, and they will want to be able to access it from anywhere," he says.

But David Pakman, co-founder and senior vice president of business development at Myplay, a site that provides its users storage space for their personal music collections, believes that the services Gig offers are essentially what music sites would consider a core part of their infrastructure - a part they wouldn't be looking to outsource.

"We already use partners like AboveNet [Communications] and Akamai [Technologies] to help us with streaming content to the edge," Pakman says. "I think the application that sits on top of the general-purpose infrastructure is really where the value is derived, and we've built that ourselves."