You can't let the little pricks generation-gap you.

Molly, in William Gibson's Neuromancer, 59

11 Nov 1999
I've just been generation-gapped, blindsided by a bit of digital technology I had never imagined, but which is directly relevant to my work in information fluency.

It began with a conversation about network performance and slow traffic over the Internet. Graphs of our T1 line traffic show an early morning surge that continues pretty much unabated until after midnight: SOMETHING is sucking up enormous amounts of bandwidth, moving lots of bytes in and out of W&L's computing environment. Network mavens seem not to know just where the problem is coming from, though some mutter darkly about MP3 files --digital music, much of it 'pirated' from the point of view of the music industry, but seen by the young as an important information resource, whatever its origins.

The INNOVATION is a piece of client software, the current type case of which is Napster. I had never heard of Napster before yesterday, but --more important-- I hadn't realized that the basic activity of Napster was even possible. And therein lies the relevance for information fluency.

Listen. If you have a Napster client running on your computer and you're connected to the Internet (say by the college's T1 line), you can send a search request for a song title or a band name and (almost immediately) get back a listing of other machines, also simultaneously running Napster, which have MP3 files labeled with the search string. That's pretty amazing: Napster creates a virtual catalog of material on the hard drives of machines which have the application running. But that's just the beginning. You can select MP3 files to be transferred to your machine, fetched from any of thousands of other sites; and people can do likewise with MP3 files that reside on your machine, so long as you're connected and have Napster running. And so we have a vast traffic in MP3 files, conducted by a software agent...

Much of the tut-tutting of the moment has to do with legalities and recording industry fantods, but these bits of vaudeville obscure the really significant point that this is a sterling example of a virtual community of people sharing files, of distributed information. If MP3, then why not ArcView .shp files? The implications for such Information Industry entities as libraries (and computing services and ISPs) are enormous, and unplumbed. I'm still just beginning to realize the horrors, difficulties, opportunities...

While AltaVista gives more than 4000 hits for 'napster' (mostly phatic), there's NOTHING on Lexis/Nexis, and only two stories on Dow-Jones that mention Napster. It seems to be a creature of the Internet:

Posted by Dennis on July 26, 1999 at 22:08:20:

a few friends found this really cool program awhile back.. its should be
going into a final release sometime soon, its still a beta but its already
had about a thousand downloads from in a day... if your into
Mp3s you gotta check this out.... ... ive never seen
anything like it, I hope some jerk dosnt nail this guy for something
saying its illegal, cause this program just made finding any mp3 just
waaay too easy