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SoulSeek Interview
December 26, 2003
Thomas Mennecke
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SoulSeek has quickly become an important force in the P2P world. Although it has not reached great heights like WinMX or FastTrack, this network has one of the strongest and closest knit communities. In addition, its lead programmer, Nir Arbel, maintains close contact with the SoulSeek community; something that is perhaps more important than the network size or availability of files. We would like to thank Nir Arbel for taking the time to participate in this interview. Explain SoulSeek’s progress towards decentralization. When will SoulSeek ultimately become a fully decentralized network; and,

What aspects of the network are centralized? Please explain the
current architecture.

Nir Arbel: If anything, we're less decentralized now than we were when we started on the whole thing. The more system functions we tried to move to the decentralized network, the clearer it became how important the reliability of centralization was to most of the things Soulseek did.

In the end the only thing we left decentralized was the distribution of search requests. Those took the heaviest toll on the server, but at the same time search requests, as data, are much more disposable than say private messages, user info requests, or pretty much anything else the server does. In case you haven't guessed by now, no, Soulseek will never become fully decentralized. It would be impossible to manage as a community the same way that's done now.` Considering mostly techno, dance, house and electronic music is on the network, do you feel this has prevented the RIAA from taking an interest in SoulSeek?

Nir Arbel: It couldn't have hurt. Considering the majority of stuff trafficked on the system is probably non-RIAA owned, and seeing as the system is pretty small to begin with, it's likely we're not even on the RIAA's radar. If certain aspects remain centralized, will you perhaps revisit the idea of allowing individuals to run their own SoulSeek server?

Nir Arbel: Anything's possible, but I really can't think of too many good reasons to let people run their own servers. For one, yes, the way we make money pretty much depends on there just being one server if the privileges we give in return for donations are to mean anything.

Additionally, we like the idea of everyone being connected to everyone. People are still free to create their own communities on SoulSeek by means of chatrooms, shared recommendations and just plain search results. But at the same time you don't suffer the exclusive, elitist attitudes that you might know from networks like Hotline or Direct Connect. What estimates would you place on the size of the SoulSeek network (simultaneous user)? What effect, if any, has the RIAA’s campaign had on the size/growth of the network?

Nir Arbel: Right now we have a little over a million registered usernames. At peak hours we get a little over a hundred thousand users logged on simultaneously, but that seems to be down to about eighty thousand right now. Maybe because of the holidays. What steps have you or will you take to protect SoulSeek users from the RIAA (if possible)? I understand SoulSeek users can limit whom they share with, however will future versions disable the browsing of shared files like Kazaa Lite?

Nir Arbel: I'm not sure I understand. You can share privately to users on your buddy list, in which case other users won't be able to browse your files. Anyway, if you're thinking about encryption and IP forwarding and all the neat stuff networks like Freenet do, then that's not gonna happen anytime soon, as we're just not up to the task. I get that question a lot from users, and the answer is always more or less: you're on your own. If you don't feel like taking the rather minute risk of sharing files on a largely overlooked P2P network, then either share privately or not at all. SoulSeek has been revised with a bit more frequency in the last few months. What improvements/revisions have been made?

Nir Arbel: Almost everything we've done in the last few months was in attempt to let the server handle a larger number of users. This included both server-side modifications like fixing memory leaks, switching the pocket polling interface to the new sys_epoll that's in linux 2.6.x and optimizing wherever we can, as well as changes to the client to make it less aggressive in some respects, like the manner in which wishlists are sent to the server.

Another pretty major update to the system that I'm proud of is to do with the recommendations. It's basically just a system that lets you list anything and everything that makes your life worth living and then links you to users with similar interests and the things that interest them. We used to have a very basic version of this feature in the past, but as the system kept growing we had to give it up because the server couldn't support it anymore. After a few hardware upgrades and software optimizations, we brought it back in a considerably more functional package. Let’s look into the future of SoulSeek. What features can we expect? Any chance in multi-source downloading?

Nir Arbel: Nope. To reiterate on something I've said many times before. We like being an old-school network where users not only know who they're downloading from, but also depend on each others' good will. That's how a community works. Any network that does a good job of anonymizing the uploaders through decentralization and multisource transfers can be a great tool, but it's not a community.

New features? The only thing we're concerned with right now is reliability. Make the server stop crashing, make searches return more results and faster, make the client more stable for more people. The network isn't so small that radical new changes can be easily introduced without major disruption. If I am going to start working on new features, it's very likely that they'll be on the side of the community aspect rather than the file-sharing aspect, like the recommendations module. A lot of third party developers have infiltrated networks such as FastTrack, DirectConnect and eDonkey2000. A Linux client has been developed for SoulSeek. Is third party infiltration/development a concern to you?

Nir Arbel: It depends. If the client knows how to upload as well as download, and respects download privileges, I don't mind people using it. I think Nicotine does both of those, but I heard that MLDonkey, which has a SoulSeek support module, doesn't even have file upload functionality on the SoulSeek network. That's just not ok. Tell us more about SoulSeek Isle; is development still active? What is/was the goal of this project and what relevance will it have when SoulSeek becomes decentralized.

Nir Arbel: Yeah, there's not much to say. We thought we couldn't keep supporting the growing number of users on the Soulseek server, so we started an initiative to branch out to additional servers, the first of which was supposed to be the isle. After putting a lot of work into the server software, we discovered we had a lot more breathing room than we thought. So the Isle is down for now. We still use it when we need to test particularly risky modifications to the system though. What is your opinion of the RIAA’s current campaign against file-sharing? Do you see file-sharing prevailing in the end?

Nir Arbel: I'm not sure there's a point to forming an opinion about it. Day rolls into night and a huge corporation that never factored values of human decency into its profit model will do everything in its power to keep making more money, without any regard to perspective and common sense.

And so other than giving people who have perspective and common sense something to make fun of, I don't believe their efforts will make a difference in the long run, as far as our file-sharing habits are concerned.

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File-Sharing/P2P Related :: Interviews

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