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SuprNova.org: The Story of a Legend
May 7, 2006
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Despite the domain being on sale for over a week, there has been no news or discussion on the apparent end to the once all-powerful BitTorrent site, Suprnova.org. Nobody even noticed, and if they did, they decided the news was not worthy or reporting to the world.

It was not always this way, once upon a time SuprNova was as much part of BitTorrent as the client itself, serving up torrents to 420,000 unique visitors a day. Without question, the site revolutionised the dynamics of internet traffic.

The Birth of a Legend

The story beginnings in Ljubljana, the beautiful capital of Slovenia, with a local teenager called Andrej Preston. Preston was one of the first to start using BitTorrent when it debuted in 2002.

At the time there were only about half-a-dozen all-purpose BitTorrent sites, but Preston was quickly hooked on the technology. Inspired by the now defunct BitTorrent websites Donkax.com and Turok.info, he decided to begin a BitTorrent site of his own in late 2002.

Being a huge Star Trek and sci-fi fan, Preston wanted to name the website Supernova, but the domain name was already taken, hence SuprNova, the universal BitTorrent source, was born.

As the administrator of this new site, Preston used his internet pseudonym Sloncek, which is a derivative of his childhood nickname “Slonček”, meaning “Little Elephant” in Slovenian.

The site was originally hosted on a Linux box connected to a basic domestic broadband line at Sloncek’s home address. With the aid of Microsoft FrontPage, Sloncek painstakingly uploaded every torrent to the website manually.

The foundations were rocky, but curiosity in the site and BitTorrent in general was stirring. Having spammed his favorite internet forums and all over IRC, interest in SuprNova was rising. While other site administrators got tired of the upkeep their sites demanded, Sloncek continued to put in the hard hours. To help, the MPAA began sending threatening letters to the owners of BitTorrent sites, giving SuprNova almost monopoly control of the market.

It was not long before SuprNova outgrew the Linux box, which had a measly upload of 16kb/s. For comparison, the modern day Mininova peaks at nearly 10,000kb/s.

Laying The Foundations

It was June 2003. Random Nut’s Kazaa Lite K++ was the file sharing client of choice and the Ares network population was struggling to break past the 10,000 mark. The RIAA had just publicized their intention to collect evidence for their first round of lawsuits and more and more file sharers were discovering the joys of BitTorrent.

To handle the expediential growth, SuprNova was fully upgraded. A new script automatically uploaded new torrent submissions to the site and another script regularly checked trackers in order to produce seed and leech statistics.

The website was otherwise minimal. Originally SuprNova gave detailed information about each torrent, such as the tracker used and details of each file within the download, but this was later dropped. Only the torrent name, the total file size, the number of seeds and leeches and a URL to more information was offered. It was simple, but loved for it.

SuprNova had one more trick to play. To overcome the problem of hosts shutting down the site after each letter from the MPAA, SuprNova also began using a unique system of mirrors. Hosts, which were paid for by SuprNova or donated by users, acted as either a server for the SuprNova webpage, or a server for the torrent files. Both were controlled and updated by a central server.

It succeeded in what is was meant to do. Hosts would come and go, but SuprNova stayed online in the long term.

The system was far from perfect and suffered frequent short-term downtime. Furthermore, the database of torrents could not even be searched within SuprNova.org until nearly a year later, in April 2004.

Despite the troubles, the timing of the upgrade was perfect. The site now had everything it needed to boom.

Boom and Bust

The site gained a reputation of completeness and integrity. Thousands of people submitted tens of thousands of torrent files. The fakes were all weeded out by a group of only 20 moderators. Their job was made easier with unmoderated submitters, who had gained the trust of the moderators, so could publish torrents directly to the front page.

As part of a study into BitTorrent and SuprNova by J.A. Pouwelse, et al. at Department of Computer Science, Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, researchers attempted pollute SuprNova with fake files, but failed to get any past the moderators.

8 months after the upgrade, SuprNova was receiving 675,000 visits per day. 4 months later, daily visitors reached 830,000, and another 4 months after that, the figure was over 1.2 million.

By this time it was November 2004. On the surface, everything was sound. The associated forums were among the largest forums in the world, and the site even had its own radio station. It was the same month that the mainstream press started to report CacheLogic's research that found BitTorrent accounted for 35% of the total traffic on the internet. It was difficult to imagine a world without SuprNova.

However, behind the scenes the pressure was swelling.

Technologically, SuprNova was slipping behind. At least two websites, Bi-Torrent and LiteNova, offered SuprNova torrent files in an easy to browse and search format, and was much faster than SuprNova. The SuprNova team originally attempted to block these sites, but was forced to give up when his measures caused problems for SuprNova users.

Meanwhile, other websites were collecting and hosting torrent files of their own. Youceff hosted nearly as many files as SuprNova, but was faster, provided more detailed information on each torrent, allowed users to comment on torrents and provided a database of passwords for passworded torrents.

At the same time, sites like isoHunt and TorrentSpy had started to scan the internet for torrent files, creating a huge database of files and giving detailed information on each. They also had SuprNova’s staying power and are still online today.

SuprNova had competition.

Meanwhile, the French anti-piracy company RetSpan was after blood. Sloncek casually dismissed the threat, telling Slyck.com:

“Since I am sure I am not doing anything wrong, I think that there shouldn’t be a reason to worry about it.”

Later in the month he learnt that the Slovenian authorities were not so sure. According to Sloncek’s version of events, the local police raided the main SuprNova servers. At the time, the police took no further action. Sloncek claims he would not have even known it had happened if his ISP had not called to tell him.

Shortly after, the local press picked up on a Reuters story about SuprNova. The combination of the police raid and his name in the headlines were enough to spook Sloncek, so he made the decision to take down the site. On December 19th 2004, SuprNova.org as a torrent site and a force on the internet died, but not before it revolutionized the free distribution of media on the internet.

Final 18 Months

Before the shutdown, Sloncek was already working as a spokesman for another project called eXeem. eXeem was a failed attempt at creating a distributed version of BitTorrent and SuprNova, which could both report the latest files and act as a tracker.

Within a fortnight of SuprNova closing, Sloncek used SuprNova’s radio station, NovaStream, to officially announce eXeem.

SuprNova was then turned into an advert for eXeem. At the time, Sloncek had not explained the closure of SuprNova, which caused rumors to quickly spread around the internet that Sloncek was attempting to sell the SuprNova traffic to eXeem, which contained Cydoor adware. Love quickly turned to hate and Sloncek was sidelined from the community as a sellout.

In January 2005, eXeem was officially launched to the public for beta testing. The once all-powerful SuprNova remained as a worthless advert. SuprNova.org would remain this way for the next 9 months.

About the same time, the police knocked on Sloncek’s door at 6.30am. Sloncek, who believed himself to be clear of any trouble now SuprNova was offline, was shocked and shaken by the move. After showing a court order, the police confiscated two computers, CDs and some documents to help their investigation into Sloncek’s involvement with SuprNova.

Only the SuprNova Forums remained as an indication to previous importance of the domain, but even they closed and merged with the Snarf-It forums in March 2005.

Unsurprisingly, the traffic to SuprNova plummeted, but this was perhaps the least of Sloncek’s worries. Sloncek was called to a police hearing in reference to SuprNova. After the hearing, the police turned over their evidence to the prosecutor.

Sloncek was still waiting to hear from the prosecutor in September 2005, when he resurrected SuprNova as a P2P News resource - 9 months after the site was closed as a torrent site.

“The main theme of SuprNova.org will stay the news, but with time I hope it becomes one of the biggest resources for P2P (or possibly something else, if users think it would better serve the community),” he announced on the front page, having removed the eXeem advert.

A month after SuprNova was reinvented as a news site, Sloncek received some good news. The prosecutor had dropped the case against him and returned his computers and other confiscated equipment.

After a strong start, the news on SuprNova began to dry up. There was a steady downward spiral in new content and within six months the site became a cobweb.

Sloncek’s vision SuprNova becoming a P2P Mecca never came to fruition. The site spawned SuprFile.org, an image hosting service, but was otherwise a failure. Without putting in the hard hours that originally made SuprNova a success, Sloncek was unable to recapture the magic of the original SuprNova. It did not help that no free media was on offer.

The site had once again descended into obscurity.

Sometime over the last few weeks, SuprNova.org went up for sale on Sedo.com. Once a file sharing hero, the MPAA’s worst nightmare and an internet giant, yet nobody cared enough to report that the site is now up for sale.

But this seems to be of little concern to Sloncek, who unlike his creation is still very much active.

"SuprNova.org is being redone and during that time I put some different advertisments on," Sloncek told Slyck.com.

Perhaps validating hope to die-hard SuprNova.org fans, Sloncek expressed some optimism. "[SuprNova.org]...is not really for sale, I am just interested if I get any nice offers. If offer was very, very nice I would sell it. But I don't think I ever will, cause this domain is part of me and I dont think I could go without it."

If Sloncek does not get any "very, very nice" offers, he plans to relaunch the SuprNova P2P news site, this time with more news, a fresh new layout and independent movie and music content.


This story is filed in these Slyck News categories
BitTorrent :: Trackers/Indexers

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