History of Napster - Facts about Napster

The Napster of today is not the same Napster that we knew yesterday. If you remember the Napster of a few years ago, you will probably recall the millions of college students who made it one of the most popular sites in the history of the Internet. You may also remember that the Napster of then was also embroiled in a massive controversy that lasted several years before the dust would eventually settle. Here is a short glimpse into the history of Napster, in case you are not already familiar with the story.

A 19-year-old college student named Shawn Fanning infamously created the original Napster. The seemingly unassuming Fanning was a student at Northeastern University when he and a friend, Sean Parker released the first version of Napster in June of 1999.

Fanning saw a need on the Internet for a space where people could search and share files. He knew that most people had lots of files on their computer’s hard drives that were going unused. Why not share these files with other users who might enjoy them or otherwise find some use for them?

At that time, search engines like IRC or Lycos were the Internet user’s best bet if he or she wanted to find files of any kind. John Fanning of Hull Massachusetts, Shawn’s uncle, decided to help his nephew out. He struck a deal with the younger Fanning that would help him start up Napster. Shawn Fanning agreed to take control of roughly 30 percent of the new company, while his uncle would take control of the rest.

Although the first official version of Napster was not launched until June of 1999, the company was already starting to develop in September of 1997. At that time, the Fanning team began to put together an executive team and take up residence in San Mateo, California.

Napster was a trailblazer in the hugely popular peer-to-peer file sharing system format that would soon become widely used by other Internet sites. However, most people do not realize that Napster was never a fully functioning peer-to-peer file sharing system. That is, many people have a misconception about the way that Napster operated most of the time. Napster did not take part in peer-to-peer file sharing directly. Rather, Napster maintained its own central servers that contained lists of all the connected system and files that were being transmitted between millions of different computers.

So essentially, Napster was merely holder of a huge directory. The actual peer-to-peer transactions were taking place in computers outside the Napster offices. Although peer-to-peer file sharing was nothing new, Napster was the first site to use that kind of system in a specialized form. In the case of Napster, they specialized in facilitating the peer-to-peer file sharing of music MP3 files in a fun and user-friendly interface. The Napster site grew so popular, that it was possible to locate even the most obscure music file using its user-friendly interface. Many music fans regarded Napster as a kind of music search engine. Fans of the original Napster used the site to browse the music and files, upload their own files, and swap music files with other users by uploading and downloading.

However, the ‘glory days’ of fun and free music downloading were coming to their inevitable end. Several high profile music acts, most notably Metallica, filed lawsuits against Napster for copyright infringement. The major record labels also began to crack down on Napster, and after a protracted legal battle the site would eventually be shut down. Years later, after being bought by Roxio, it would reemerge as a popular digital music service.