Napster alternatives booming

Napster's court-ordered shutdown is proving to be a boon for other music-sharing sites

The 21 million-plus Napster users expecting to find themselves homeless on Friday have already begun migrating to Napigator, Angry Coffee and Gigabeat, music-sharing sites that have seen huge spikes in traffic and downloads.

Late Thursday, two popular sites, Gnutella and Scour posted notices on their Web sites saying extensive traffic had forced them to shut down.

"We're getting pounded right now," with twice the normal traffic, said Chad Boyda, co-owner of Thirty4Interactive LLD. The company offers Napigator, a program that lets Napster users access scores of other servers offering free music.

Before US District Judge Marilyn Hall Patel's Wednesday ruling that Napster must block all major-label music on its site by Friday, Napigator provided users with a list of about 100 servers located worldwide that had been set up by individuals or small companies located on four of the world's five continents. By 11 a.m. Pacific time Thursday, Boyda said, 20 new ones had joined the list.

In the hours after the ruling, Boyda said, there were about 100,000 downloads of the Napigator software. That figure marks a huge leap: From February through the days before the judge's ruling, there were about 600,000 total program downloads, he said.

"The record industry has just shot itself in the foot," Boyda said. "It just started this movement of users."

So far, Boyda has been able to handle the huge traffic flows with a few tweaks of the existing hardware. But "who knows what's going to happen Friday," when the shutdown order can take effect, he said. "And then Monday?"

It may force the company to invest in another server to handle the expected crush, he said.

Adam Vincent Powell, co-founder of Angry Coffee, said the site had already seen traffic soar by a fifth in the first few hours of Thursday morning. About 36,000 people also visited the Web site's page that lets them use Angry Coffee's music-finding Web crawler.

"We're perfectly positioned to be the next Napster, and we're not going to complain," Powell said. "But obviously, we see what goes with that crown. We can't turn back on this one. The consumers have spoken. This is what they want."

Gigabeat, another music search service, was said to be overwhelmed as well.

Shane Ham, technology policy analyst for the Progressive Policy Institute, says other sites, including Gnutella, Scour and FreeNet, will also be destinations for many Napster users searching for a new home.

Late Thursday, both Gnutella and Scour posted notices on their Web sites saying that extensive traffic had forced them to shut down.

Ham said he even thinks newer sites will pop up, now that they can use the judge's ruling as a "road map" for how to create a legal music-sharing site.

But whether these sites will ever echo Napster's growth is questionable, experts said. Ease of use is the biggest deterrent.

"Gnutella is being developed pell-mell over the Internet by the open-source community," Ham said. "When you have a software protocol that only hackers are willing to improve, then only hackers are going to use it."

Rick Dube of Webnoize said he thinks some hardcore Napster users will continue on regardless of the program glitches and bugs at other sites.

"The minute they make it illegal, people can't wait to break in," he said. "It could grow just because of people downright frustrated with it all."

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