Selfish users may lead to death of peer-to-peer

Most Napster and Gnutella users are takers, not givers, a new study shows. And that could spell their doom

The sense of community that has made music file-sharing services so popular is slipping away, according to a Xerox Palo Alto Research Centre (Parc) study.

Researchers Eytan Adar and Bernardo A Huberman surveyed Gnutella users and found that just 2 percent of the users are serving 98 percent of the music files.

The number of freeriders -- the peers who only download files or fail to provide desirable content -- could ultimately cause the peer-to-peer file-sharing system to break down.

That's not surprising, said GartnerGroup analyst PJ McNealy, although he disputed the Parc study's conclusions.

McNealy said the results indicate to him that files are being downloaded in large quantities because users are sampling songs but don't necessarily save them. Citing a recent Gartner study, McNealy said sampling is what makes digital music distribution so appealing to users.

In the Gartner study, McNealy determined that music lovers tend to sample individual files, rather than entire albums.

Most digital music users understand that eventually they will have to pay for music downloads, McNealy said. Based on his findings, he said fees based on individual music tracks make more sense than monthly subscription charges.

The Xerox Parc scientists disagreed, saying, "It is hard to generate spontaneous cooperation in large anonymous groups... Gnutella is no exception to this finding, and an experimental study of its user patterns shows indeed that freeriding is the norm rather than the exception."

The Xerox Parc researchers surveyed 31,395 Gnutella users during a 24-hour period in August. Of that number, about 66 percent of the peers shared no files, and 73 percent shared l0 or less.

With such a small percentage of users providing the content, the bandwidth gets clogged. Thus, as the community grows, so will the demand on a limited number of sources. The system becomes more and more sluggish until it finally stops, the study concluded.

Furthermore, the content providers may be exposed to lawsuits. The study suggests that the fewer content providers there are, the easier it is to identify them by Internet Protocol address, which makes them easy targets for legal action.

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