Music downloading is taking off in new directions.

Kazaa continues to load annoying adware onto your computer when it’s installed. It’s harder than ever to find anything other than very obvious material using Kazaa – many people with deep libraries of more obscure songs have dropped off the Kazaa network. There are other programs for file sharing – WinMX and the like – but nothing has emerged as an obvious leader.

The Usenet newsgroups are daunting for most people, but traffic continues to increase. There’s little or no opportunity to request something in particular, so finding music you like is hit or miss and requires a significant effort to browse through the new material posted each day. Files are only available for a short time – frequently less than a week in popular newsgroups. Outlook Express is not adequate for downloading music from the newsgroups, so specialized software like Agent has to be purchased – and it has a pretty steep learning curve. Your ISP might provide access to the newsgroups but it frequently does not adequately cover the groups where songs can be downloaded, so a subscription to a third party newsgroup provider like Giganews is required. (I was surprised to learn that Comcast subscribers have free access to Giganews.)

BitTorrent is becoming more popular. It’s open source, so there’s a number of programs that can be used to download a file that is being shared using the BitTorrent system. (I chose BitTornado for experimenting.) It’s a much different experience to use it than I expected – in some respects it’s so simple that it’s a bit unnerving. Here’s an FAQ that describes BitTorrent and compares it to other methods of sharing files. Here’s a page of links to sites about BitTorrent and sites where files being shared via BitTorrent can be downloaded.

Once the BitTorrent program is installed, you won’t run it directly. Instead you’ll go to a web page listing files being shared via BitTorrent and click on a link. That’s it! A little BitTorrent window will open and you’ll connect to people sharing that file – and as you download it, you’ll also become one of the people uploading to other people seeking the same file. When you close the BitTorrent window after the download completes, you’re done – you’re not continually sharing a folder on your hard drive, or sharing any files other than the one you’re downloading at that moment. The file is only available while someone with a complete copy has BitTorrent open, so there might only be a few days or a week to get something you’re interested in.

And with all that in mind – use Sharing The Groove as an example to get a sense of how much music is being moved around out there. It’s rather extraordinary.

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