/ file sharing

A brief history of file sharing

Setting the mood...

It's the mid 90s, early 2000s and the sound of dial-up Internet is ringing in your ears and someone downstairs wants to use the telephone.

You feel overwhelmed, the internet is awash with new places to go, and viruses to break your computer, but, it's OK because we've all got MSN and at least one friend on Myspace, and his name is Tom.

We love to share files.

We love to share, why is this? The web has innovated very quickly to provide us this crave for connection. Getting data from A -> B continues to be big businesses, but file sharing copyrighted material is the source of much debate. Even so, file sharing is part of our culture as we millenials grew with the technology. We understand what it means to have 4 hour long chats with friends half-way around the world which only the internet made possible.

Innovation, law suits, & copyright battles. File sharing remains a key function of the internet. This is a nostalgic walk though of the file sharing successes of the net.


Year released: 1977

Written by: Ward Christensen
Serial Cable
Originally called just 'MODEM', the Xmodem protocol made it possible to dial another computer using your modem and transfer binary data through your modem connections. If you have ever played with (or own) an old Amstrad computer, you may have used the protocol to transfer data from your machine. In fact, Christensen wrote the protocol so he could send source code of a program to his friend Randy Suess [1].

Why did he write it?

Developer Ward Christensen was "noted for building software tools for his needs."[1:1]

XModem wasn't origionally just for file transfer, but as a bulletin board system so allow people to exchange message, updates etc.

Christensen and Suess became enamored of the idea of creating a computerized answering machine and message center, which would allow members to call in with their then-new modems and leave announcements for upcoming meetings.
Featuring Ward Christensen - BBSDAYS.com, 1978

KazaA - Lucky dip

KazA logo
Year Released: May 3rd, 2000

Original authors: Jaan Tallinn et al

KaZaA developed their own file transfer protocol called FastTrack[2] which later got used in alternative iMesh and Morpheus applications. Note that because they used the same protocol, it meant interoperability was possible, although it was not an open protocol for which it was criticised for and eventually began to lose its share of the File Sharing pie to the emerging Gnutella network.

"FastTrack," Lafferty said, "continues to have the largest overall market share, and Gnutella and others comprise a strong and growing second entrant category." - File Sharers Deserting Kazaa's FastTrack Protocol TechNewsWorld

Lucky dip malware

A rising issue with all these applications was the amount of malware, viruses that they distributed. They masqueraded as legitimate content, unwitting users to download viruses. It wouldn't be long before the user's PC becomes part of a bot, making it slow down or just crash.

Bullgard Logo

Due to their freeware nature, much of these applications relied on in-app advertising for revenue. This source of revenue would inevitably become the focus for debate. These services slowly got shut down or forced to 'change tack'. Ironically anti-virus products such as Bull Guard antivirus would get advertised, only to be pirated (containing viruses) and installed by users.


Year released: May 3, 2000

Founder: Mark Gorton[3]

Liimewire logo

Reportedly sued for more money than exists in the world (at the time) by the RIAA, Limewire certainly set a precedent.

Rather than develop its own proprietary protocol, LimeWire implemented both the gnutella and BitTorrent protocols.

Until March 2015 limewire.com displayed its court order to cease operations. It went offline later that year.
Limewire Court Order

After a divided opinion about removing or reducing some features from Limewire due to the legal issues, the open source community sprang a fork of LimeWire called 'FrostWire' which only uses BitTorrent and remains an active project with the addition of a mobile all version of the program. In fact, they're even on Slack.


- The first paid music streaming service -

Rhapsody Logo

Year released: December 3, 2001

Founder: Rob Reid[4]


By 2001, with the millennium bug meltdown successfully averted artists themselves, and bodies such as the Recording Industry Association of America and Motion Picture Association of America were still scrambling to either sue or create compelling alternatives to the piracy problem. Some embraced it as a marketing opportunity while some, the demise of creativity itself.

A case for Content Ownership

Cloud vs Personal

There's one thing common about all these services: Where is the data?

All platforms bar Rhapsody put the content on the users machine. Today, this concept is vanishing fast. The market constantly pushes the so-called benefits of cloud to consumers, even though not a single non-techy has a vague idea what 'cloud' actually means.

In computer networking we're taught to put complexity at the edges of of the network. Is cloud storage a complexity? Probably.

A not so utopian idea

If so, can we put cloud like services on the edges of the network? Perhaps. Reliably? Probably. What would the internet look like if we took storage and put it at the edges of the network, made it personal again?

But... storage space?

It's a bit of a misnomer to think that client side storage is an yes. Yes, devices may well be manufactured with less storage space due to the current market preferring your data gets put into 'a cloud'.
mkomo Hard Drive Cost Falling Graph Src: mkomo 2015

Mkomo's[5] (Matthew Komorowski) most recent analysis of hard drive cost, no surprises here, again points to the fall of cost-per-gigabyte, which may be surprising to some.

He also points out the shift to cloud and users change in behaviour:

We've stopped all the downloadin'
When it comes to the decline in storage needs, the elephant in the room is the precipitous decline in media dowloads, illegal or otherwise. - Matthew Komorowski

We're always connected anyway, right?

Not everyone have access to a reliable fast internet connection, especially when mobile is thrown into the mix. Local caching or storage.

For example a UX friend in the UK pointed out their frustration with the free version of Spotify when going for a run. She only has 2GB data allowance which soon gets sucked up, and there's no caching despite having 14GB local phone storage. Go figure.

Solving this isn't simple, once past the local storage challenge the elephant in the room is, of course, copyright and ownership of content. For example, at Seshi.io we're working on a two-way streaming feature whilst people can share content they need to share between friends & colleagues.

People can chat and enjoy content together, much like having a film-night with friends. Except this time, the party goes on with friends half-way around the world.



  1. Ward Christensen https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ward_Christensen ↩︎ ↩︎

  2. FastTrack protocol https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FastTrack ↩︎

  3. Mark Gorton https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mark_Gorton ↩︎

  4. Rob Reid http://readrobreid.com/ ↩︎

  5. Mkomo http://www.mkomo.com/ ↩︎