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SoulSeek - Standing the Test of Time
November 13, 2010
Thomas Mennecke
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Does the loss of LimeWire have you down? Well it really shouldn't. The close of LimeWire had zero tangible detriment to the file-sharing community. If anything, it actually spurred innovation on several fronts: renewed focus on FrostWire and the arrival of LimeWire: Pirate Edition. The latter is a new entry into the file-sharing fray, whose arrival was spurred by the inoperability of the most recent versions of the official LimeWire client. Although LimeWire withstood the test of time, it didn't quite pass the final exam. That distinct honor goes to SoulSeek - one of the oldest P2P applications still thriving after all these years.

The history of Soulseek goes back at least 8 years, and is a throwback P2P application in every sense of the word. Can a centralized, non-indexing site compatible, mono-source P2P network still exist in today's world of meta-search engines, peer swarms and DHT supported mega-networks? Yes, and SoulSeek has managed to not only defy today's standards of file-sharing, but remain virtually unchanged since its beginnings. Designed by Nir Arbel, once a programmer at Napster, SoulSeek retains many remnants of Napster but also adds its own unique twists. Today, SoulSeek is one of the last stand-alone P2P network that combines community and searchability in one package.

Soulseek's focus is on the community like old skool networks - remember Napster, OpenNap, AudioGalaxy and WinMX? What made Napster unique, and this is a facet the was really never equaled (except maybe by AudioGalaxy) was the unique social interaction of its chat rooms. Simply hop into one of the thousands of chat rooms and it opened a world of new music discovery. SoulSeek has this identical feature - except of course it doesn't have millions of simultaneous users. But that's OK - SoulSeek's focus is on quality of quantity. And just because it doesn't have millions of users online doesn't mean that it's population isn't considerable; a quick glance at its chat room population shows at least 1,500+ users , a number that doesn't reflect users elsewhere on the network.

You'll find material on SoulSeek you won't find anywhere else, and that's a fact jack. One of the reasons SoulSeek has managed to stay online all these years is that it has largely avoided crap top 40 or the latest pop music. Instead, as its chat rooms reflect, much of the music is material you won't hear on the repetitious nature of radio play. If indie, Drum n' Bass, House, Trance, alternative forms or rock (death metal, industrial, Gothic, ect), are your cup of tea, dump your LimeWire client and check out SoulSeek. What really separates SoulSeek from the rest is the ability to just right click on a user and browse their shared folder. You can't do that on ĀµTorrent, and you won't be able to brose 75,000 files from one user.

The client is virtually the same as its always been, but it still works great. That's not to say there hasn't been some technological progress made on the SoulSeek front. Back in 2003, Nir Arbel and Slyck talked about SoulSeek, and indeed the server intensive search aspect of the network was decentralized, but that's about all you'll ever see decentralized on the SoulSeek network.

"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."

Since the SoulSeek client hasn't really kept up with the innovations of file-sharing, or the files being shared, SoulSeek is somewhat limited in its ability to display one of the most popular file types being shared on the network: HQ (high qualty) FLAC / lossless files. The client will display them as low quality, but for the most part users of the network seem to have adapted just fine. This is by design, mind you - the intention of SoulSeek is to keep things personal and community oriented. Multisource swarms simply don't allow for this.

For the music connoisseur, SoulSeek is most certainly the avenue of choice. This doesn't mean the project isn't without its problems. Recently, Nir posted about funding issues, and was forced to let one of his system administrator go. Compounding this issue is the current lawsuit in France launched by SACEM and SCPP, a local rights group representing the major music producers and record labels. Also, and unfortunately, SoulSeek Records' website doesn't seems to have been udpated since 2007. But SoulSeek has managed to last this long, and has been through worse challenges. French copyright law has proven to be unkind to P2P, but at least Nir & co aren't located in France.


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