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The Future of the Gnutella Network

Growth Potential of the Gnutella Network

Lime Wire believes that the Gnutella Network holds tremendous potential to grow far beyond its current size and scope. As of 2/20/01, the Gnutella Network is estimated to have about 200,000 unique users (calculated by unique IP addresses) daily, making it the world’s most popular serverless peer-to-peer information- and file-sharing network.  Furthermore, as of 2/20/01, the network continues to grow at a pace of approximately 7% per day.

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Lime Wire has invested considerable resources in monitoring and studying the network, and in publishing reports and statistics about the network.Since each new node adds resources to the network, the network holds virtually limitless potential to grow in size.The virtuous cycle of software functionality, users, and content will drive this organic growth, and we have already seen the beginnings of this effect. As the software that powers the Gnutella Network gets better and more usable, more users are attracted to the network. As more users join the network, the new content that they bring with them increases the aggregate of high quality content on the network, which in turn drives up usership and places increased pressure on the software to increase in quality.The cycle repeats, continuing to drive rapid growth, as illustrated by the following cycle of organic growth:

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The Virtuous Cycle of Gnutella Usership


  1. As software develops to support the distribution of useful and interesting content, useful and interesting content will be made available on the network.
  2. As more content is introduced into the network, there arises a need to navigate that content in better, more structured ways.
  3. As more users join the network, the software must become more sophisticated, customizable, and scalable in order to support and retain these new users.
  4. As the software becomes more sophisticated, customizable, and scalable, new users will be attracted to the network.
  5. As more content becomes available on the network, new users will join the network in order to access this content.
  6. As these users join the network, they bring with them even more content, augmenting the aggregate of material available on the network.
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The Gnutella Network has the potential to experience an explosion in popularity and functionality, in much the same way that the World Wide Web became popular once good browser software became available. In June 1994, the Web had 1 million users; by October 1994, the date of Netscape’s beta release, it had 2 million users, and by summer 1995, it had 10 million users and had become the largest carrier of information over the Internet.Heading into 2001, the Web has approximately 300 million users, and that number continues to grow rapidly.Taking advantage of a similar virtuous cycle, Napster was able to grow to 20 million users within a year of its initial release, without spending a cent on any advertising. Gnutella’s growth could be just as spectacular as any in the history of the Internet.

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Knowledge Sharing on Gnutella: An Organic Growth Process

GILDER’S LAW OF THE TELECOSM: Every new host computer added to the Net would not only use the Net; it would also be a new resource for it, providing a new route for the bits and new room to store them. Every new flood of megabyte bitmaps would make the Net more interesting, useful, and attractive. - George Gilder, Forbes ASAP, 1995

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The Gnutella Network has the potential to serve as a very effective information retrieval tool, with capabilities beyond those of the World Wide Web. The searchable web today consists almost exclusively of static content. Dynamically generated pages, however, such as those of most e-commerce sites, are inaccessible to browser-based search engines. In addition, the web’s system of searching often yields search responses which are irrelevant, outdated, or invalid, due to its reliance on search technologies which can only periodically search and retrieve the contents of various webpages.

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In contrast, the Gnutella Network has the potential to become more effective and intelligent as it gains a greater audience. Each new user has the ability enrich and improve the network, simply by pursuing his or her interests. Lime Wire is currently developing technologies to rate and preference the items on the network by tracking which media files have been frequently played or transferred, and also by allowing the user to add comments, ratings, or other meta-information, about which files they do and do not like.Users will then be able to search for other users on the net who have similar collections of video files and similar favorites lists, and download new files that are highly rated by those users with similar tastes. The process of selecting interesting files by identifying other users with similar preferences can be automated; the LimeWire program could present the user with new media files which it thinks she might want to see or hear.If a user sees a video she particularly likes, she can make a note to trust the source of that video a little more.As users tune their preferences, the Gnutella net will get more useful for them and everyone else on the network.

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The information rating structure that applies to media files can also apply to movie reviews, restaurant ratings, business ratings, and so forth. Furthermore, the distributed nature of the Gnutella Network can provide an excellent way for consumers to conduct commercial transactions.  Lime Wire is already developing standards and software which can support an informational transaction such as the following hypothetical example.   A user is interested in purchasing a new television.  At present, a web savvy user is able to find out product details, and sometimes even reviews, at a large number of online retailers, using her browser-equipped PC and searching for a TV by brand or model number, a time consuming process.   She might even go to a comparison shopping site which will search many retailers, giving her a chance to pick a specific retailer based on price or location. The comparison shopping site is receiving some compensation for its services, however, and therefore the user is not getting the best price or the most complete coverage she could get.

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In contrast, on a peer-to-peer network such as the Gnutella network, she might have an easier time trying to find out exactly what she wanted.   She would first search for users on the Gnutella network with some respected expertise in the field, and download their preferences or bookmark sets, saving her time in the research process.Once she has an idea of what she wants, she would fill out a television shopping template specifying the TV model or specifications.She would then send this template out into the Gnutella network to be passed to any interested parties.The interested parties, mostly retailers, would then respond directly to her, with a set of dynamically generated, structured responses from their Gnutella server-equipped databases. In addition to retailers, auction and liquidation sites, private individuals, and small businesses could also respond.The user could then rank the received responses by the criteria she found most important. This informational exchange also fits perfectly into a model of a B2B exchange, where queries are very specific and the vast majority of product information is stored in databases, and not on actual shared pages.

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The cumulative result of this functionality is that the Gnutella network should get smarter as more people use it.On the WWW, search directories and search engines provide the network intelligence. On the Gnutella net, users will contribute to the usefulness of the network through their regular use. We expect that companies will emerge to provide the Gnutella net analog to search engines and search directories. In the end, the problem that is being solved is the organization of all the information in the world, and there is no reason to expect that a final solution will ever be reached or that we have even seen the outlines of the information structures that will be built in our lifetimes.

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The transition from sharing media files to sharing other types of information will be a critical process in the growth of the network, but the process won’t be without precedent.  The World Wide Web, in its formative years, had a very limited function at inception – to serve as a method for academics to share research – but has now become nearly ubiquitous for many different purposes. The expansion of the Gnutella network will come sooner, rather than later, as there already exist several startups working on e-commerce solutions for decentralized peer-to-peer networks.

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Meta-Information: The Next Step

At present, most people use the Gnutella Network to search for media files by file name.In the future, the Gnutella Network will be a general information-sharing tool which will extend far beyond the simple sharing of media files. The first step in this process is to include meta-information, or information about information, in the network’s sharable content.  Right now, if a user is looking for a chicken soup recipe, he might initiate a document search on the string “chicken soup recipe.”However, there are all sorts of other variables which he might also be interested in searching by, such as preparation time, cost, etc. The LimeWire software will soon be enabling users to mark up their content with various types of meta-information, so that content can be searched by more than just file type or title.  Music MP3 files will be searchable by artist, title, album, and length; pictures will be searchable by size, subject, and quality. Every type of content that anyone could be interested in sharing will include meta-information telling potential downloaders more about what they are getting.

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This meta-information need not be limited to media files.If a user is interested in selling his bike, advertising his services as a babysitter, requesting information about loans, or buying a book on chess, he will be able to specify the parameters of these transactions using meta-information. A potential babysitter can markup his babysitting resume with his rates, availability, age, and location, allowing people looking for babysitting services to search on any of these criteria. A potential money borrower can markup his loan information request with an amount to be borrowed, the length of the loan, and a maximum acceptable interest rate; financial institutions will then be able to respond on the Gnutella Network with loan applications if they fit the his criteria.A user trying to sell his bike can markup a classified ad with meta-information describing the bike’s make, age, and price.

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In short, any type of information that a person or company could want to distribute to the public could be shared on the Gnutella Network, and could be easily searched and downloaded using the LimeWire software. The technology to accomplish all of this is not very far off, and Lime Wire has already begun to define an XML grammar which can be used to markup just about any kind of imaginable content with relevant metadata.This functionality will be brought to the Gnutella Network in future versions of the LimeWire software.For more technical information about meta-information, please see Lime Wire’s Metadata Proposal.

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Gnutella: An Open Protocol

Gnutella is a big deal . . . it can change the way businesses share information - Marc Andreessen, Co-Founder and CTO, Netscape
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Gnutella is an open protocol, meaning that any individual or company is free to build software for the Gnutella Network. The advantage of an open protocol is that it allows any individual or corporate entity to introduce new content and applications into the network, a true free market environment. Closed protocol networks such as Napster cannot innovate, build, and maintain themselves in the same way as an open protocol environment.

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Lime Wire supports Gnutella’s open-protocol, prejudice-free development environment.Since nobody owns the Gnutella protocol, any company or person can use it to send or respond to queries, and no entity will have an artificial choke hold over the network or over the information flowing through it.  This free market enviroment promotes competition among entities choosing to respond to the same queries.Despite Gnutella’s superficial similarities to the closed-protocol file-sharing tool Napster, the model for Gnutella’s growth and development is the World Wide Web. On the World Wide Web, nobody owned the hypertext transfer protocol (HTTP) on which the Web was based, nor did anybody own the web itself, which has allowed its growth to be so explosive, and the spectrum of its applications so broad.

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Thus, LimeWire hopes and expects to see the Gnutella Network continue to grow and evolve in the coming months and years, moving far beyond its beginnings as a media file-sharing network. The incorporation of meta-information into the network will be the crucial next step in transforming the Gnutella Network into an information-sharing tool which will rival the World Wide Web. Gnutella’s totally open protocol will continue to foster development, innovation, and growth as the functionality and usefulness of the Gnutella Network continue to evolve.

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