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Regular readers of this blog know that I'm a big fan of the BitTorrent method of sharing music and video.  As such, I enjoy reading interesting articles and blog entries about it.  A fellow collector at my favorite BT site, dimeadozen, directed me to an entry at Eric's Music Ramblings And Indie Musings:

Thursday, July 20, 2006

The Rise of BitTorrent and Decline of Trading

I am a junkie. Like any junkie with a conscience and an awareness of his declining sense of self-respect, my addiction at various times causes personal shame and guilt, usually followed by the resolution that I will end the addiction. Beat this thing for good. Cut it off at the toke point. Or at least reduce it to a controllable level.

My addiction is live music. And is my drug. Like any narcotic, it has its benefits and horrible, horrible drawbacks. And despite what medical experts will tell you, it is every bit as addictive as any chemical drug.

In recent years, sites like dimeadozen and the standard protocol to support it, called “BitTorrent,” have grown in popularity among sick musos like myself. If it has not yet officially replaced trading as the primary means of live music dissemination, it very soon will. There are far too many advantages to this mode for it not to continue to increase in popularity. It will inevitably make trading a footnote in music collecting history (speaking of which, isn’t about time for an update to Clinton Heylin’s excellent Bootleg?) CD trading will eventually become a piece of nostalgia, much like vinyl records and mix tapes.

At its best, BitTorrent offers several advantages that classic trading cannot challenge. BitTorrent is far faster than trading; instead of having to find someone willing to trade, retrieving the necessary CDs from whatever maximum-security vault the collector has designed, burning the CDs, packaging the CDs, and mailing the CDs, all BitTorrent takes is some free software and a PC with burning capabilities, and a user is free to download shows until he falls asleep or his spouse leaves him.

BitTorrent has also substantially increased the amount of live music in circulation. The effort of having to search individual trade lists to find a specific show is now practically non-existent. A simple post to a torrent message board will usually yield a generous collector willing to seed the show, regardless of how rare or hard to find a specific show might be. In this way, BitTorrent has made it remarkably easy to efficiently acquire new live music.

Deadbeat traders are also a non-factor with BitTorrent, and though they have been replaced by their evil twins in the form of deadbeat downloaders, dimeadozen enforces a minimum share ratio to combat this problem. Bad traders are the scourge of the trading community, and my guess is that their food supply is quickly drying up as BitTorrent’s popularity increases. And to the trader from the Bonin Islands who burned me for six CDs, I’m still waiting.

Perhaps best of all, BitTorrent has eliminated the need to travel to the post office to feed the addiction. No longer do sick music junkies need to stand in line with dozens of bubble-padded envelopes, slither up to the clerk’s window, and feel the disapproving glances from other customers as the clerk processes dozens of mysterious packages destined for places like Burma, Papua New Guinea, and Bhutan.

But I’m still not convinced the rise of BitTorrent is an entirely good thing. Despite the advantages described above, some of the “charm” of old-fashioned trading through the mail is being lost as BitTorrent becomes the standard method of sharing live recordings. There was also something exciting about getting a package with new music via the mail. And besides, since 90% of the mail is usually either bills, junk, or offers to subscribe to a men’s magazine, a delivery of new music was always a welcome fix.

The biggest drawback to BitTorrent, however, is that it has unintentionally contributed to a serious decline in interaction and discussion among live music fans, via the usual fan sites and message boards. Granted, many of the postings at such places could range anywhere from the brilliant and lucid to the obsessive, deranged, and psychotic; the point was that the music was being discussed by people who appreciated and enjoyed the music (perhaps too much). And I also suspect that such forms of communication were the extent of social interaction that some of the more “dedicated” traders experienced on a daily basis.

Even the most enthusiastic traders I have traded with for years have moved on to dimeadozen or other live music sites. And I can’t blame them. Like most other honest traders, their intentions are good and their only aim is to find music to enjoy, in the most convenient way possible. Perhaps the sense of community and generosity and lively musical discussion and appreciation will become part of these sites; perhaps they already have and I’m not noticing. But for those traders who enjoyed the online friendship and camaraderie with like-minded musos that traditional trading created, the rising popularity of BitTorrent has depersonalized the trading community.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to check the mail. I’m sure there are bills to pay and subscription offers to men’s magazines to ignore.

posted by Eric at 6:03 AM 3 comments