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
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The Virtuous Cycle of Gnutella Usership
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As software develops to support the distribution of useful and interesting content, useful and interesting content will be made available on the network.
As more content is introduced into the network, there arises a need to navigate that content in better, more structured ways.
As more users join the network, the software must become more sophisticated, customizable, and scalable in order to support and retain these new users.
As the software becomes more sophisticated, customizable, and scalable, new users will be attracted to the network.
As more content becomes available on the network, new users will join the network in order to access this content.
As these users join the network, they bring with them even more content, augmenting the aggregate of material available on the network.
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
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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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