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Begin forwarded message:

> From: Lucas Gonze
> Date: Tue Jul 09, 2002 08:54:08 PM US/Pacific
> To: “Joseph S. Barrera III”
> Subject: Re: – Gnutella Developer Gene Kan, 25,
> Commits Suicide – July 09, 2002
> Gene was a dark guy. Also quiet and smart. I liked him.
> Funny the way this happened. Death cements his status as the face of
> Gnutella. It’s wierd the way that Justin Frankel and Tom Pepper
> are still
> hidden away back there behind Gene, right where they’d have to be
> to keep
> AOL Time Warner cool and generally avoid the media shitstorm. The
> whole
> association between them and Gene and Gnutella started because
> they were
> roommates. …
>> From
> It’s June 1999. The programming community is shocked. Justin
> Frankel, the
> talented young programmer who helped create the Winamp and
> Shoutcast MP3
> players, had sold his company Nullsoft to America Online. For at
> least a
> year, Winamp had been the most popular software program in the MP3
> underground, one of the first tools that made it really easy to
> listen to
> music nabbed off the Net. Frankel was an icon for script kiddies
> everywhere, and had a history of doing whatever he felt like
> doing — but
> selling out to AOL? Even though the price tag was rumored to be $100
> million (and Nullsoft was also seeking relief from a troubling lawsuit
> that alleged that Winamp stole its code), many found this hard to
> swallow;
> even more suspected that AOL might not know exactly what it had gotten
> itself into.
> For nine months, Frankel and his team worked in silence behind the
> corporate wall of AOL, in the company’s San Francisco music
> headquarters.
> And then, one day in mid-March, the statement: a little program called
> Gnutella, hidden on a back page of Nullsoft’s Web site. It was an early
> “alpha” version of what was to be an open-source (the code would
> be freely
> available to all) file-sharing system, like the increasingly
> controversial
> Napster program, but lacking the vulnerabilities — centralized
> servers,
> lack of anonymity — that made Napster so easy to attack.
> What was Frankel thinking? AOL was in the process of merging with Time
> Warner, which in turn owns the EMI and Warner Music record labels.
> And EMI
> and Warner Music, as two of the five biggest members of the RIAA,
> are not
> fond of programs that allow users to pirate MP3 files. The program
> appeared on the Nullsoft Web site for just a few hours before AOL
> yanked
> the page down, issuing a terse statement declaring that “the Gnutella
> software was an unauthorized freelance project.” Was Frankel trying to
> peeve his new corporate owners?
> Nullsoft engineers had been watching the controversy surrounding
> Napster,
> and threw together Gnutella in the space of a few days as a way to
> prove
> that a decentralized system could out-geek the law. Their goal was
> less to
> annoy their new owners than to figure out how to improve upon
> Napster. As
> one person close to the Nullsoft staff explains, “They have ‘fuck you
> money,’ they can do whatever the hell they want and AOL can’t take back
> what they gave them. I don’t think that Gnutella was just done to
> [thumb
> their noses] — AOL is insignificant. It was just the most interesting
> thing you could possibly be doing, AOL or no AOL.”
> AOL’s punishment for its rogue programmers was minor: The company
> publicly
> disassociated itself from Gnutella, forbade Frankel to work on the
> program
> and hoped the embarrassment would end there. (Although Frankel,
> six months
> later, unleashed a second surprise for AOL: a little program called
> AIMazing, which helps eradicate ads from AOL’s instant messaging
> program
> … but that’s another story.)
> AOL’s actions did not mean, of course, the end of Gnutella. Avid
> developers were savvy enough to download Gnutella before it
> disappeared,
> and before long they had reverse-engineered the program and distributed
> the protocols; in a matter of weeks, the Web was peppered with sites
> offering both the original Gnutella program and a number of clones. Six
> months later, more than two dozen versions of the software have been
> released by assorted developers.
> The initial Gnutella software was hard to use: It had a confusing
> interface, and to connect to the network users had to scramble to
> find the
> Internet address of another Gnutella host (not always an easy
> task). But
> new versions such as Gnotella incorporated friendly Napster-like
> interfaces, let users design their own skins and smoothed out some
> basic
> networking issues. Shaun Sidwall, the Canadian programmer behind
> Gnotella,
> plans to incorporate a built-in host in the next version of his
> software,
> so that newbies can automatically connect to the network.
> Dozens of programmers were thrilled to get a chance to tinker with
> Gnutella. But any technology needs its figurehead, and with
> Frankel hidden
> away in the back rooms of AOL, Gnutella needed a new spokesperson. It
> found one in Kan.
> Gnutella — and, for that matter, the entire P2P movement —
> couldn’t ask
> for a better representative. Like Frankel, founder
> Kan is a
> quiet and youthful programmer with a love for technology. Unlike
> Frankel,
> however, he’s a master at industry diplomacy. He’s young and
> soft-spoken
> and chooses his words as carefully as a law professor, excising
> any “ums”
> or “likes.” He sits stiffly, with his hands in his lap, and other
> than his
> collection of zippy cars (including an RX7 and a BMW) is utterly
> lacking
> in ostentation.
> Kan has done an excellent job as an evangelist: He’s appeared in
> the pages
> of the New York Times debating industry heavyweights like RIAA
> president
> Hilary Rosen and antitrust attorney David Boies. He’s flown to
> Washington
> to discuss policy with Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and earlier this month
> attended a P2P summit organized by computer book publisher Tim
> O’Reilly.
> Thanks to all the free publicity, Gnutella’s traffic has steadily
> grown: A
> recent study measured 35,000 users in a 24-hour period. Much of this
> growth came during the days after the RIAA won a preliminary injunction
> against Napster, as fans rushed to find a new program to use. (An
> appeals
> court later stayed the injunction until next week’s hearings.) Kan
> estimates that roughly a million copies of the program were downloaded
> from his site that day. Today, on an average day, tens of thousands of
> users use Gnutella to exchange MP3 files, plus porn, pirated software
> “warez,” illegal movies and other digital detritus, both pirated and
> legitimate.
> But all the traffic has put a strain on Gnutella, and the program’s
> weaknesses are starting to show. Kan, ever the upbeat evangelist
> for the
> technology, cheerfully admits that Gnutella has had its faults; but he
> also believes that Gnutella is ready for widespread use. “At first you
> focus on building the car, and once the car is built then you focus on
> refining the car,” he enthuses. “We knew the refining was around the
> corner and it just takes some time. We wanted to accelerate the best we
> could by coordinating developer efforts and encouraging them to
> raise the
> bar on usability. And it happened.”

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