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isoHunt Interview
February 21, 2005
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It is a well known drill. In a blaze of publicity, a SuprNova alternative appears on the Net, promising better foundations and more staying power than the last. A few weeks later, the wannabe site realizes that SuprNova was making it look easy.

With the coming and going of so many sites, it is easy to forget the pillars who have been serving up Torrent files since SuprNova was a Slovenian dream, sites such as ISO Hunt.

ISO Hunt is owned and operated by a 22 year old Canadian named Gary Fung, or IH as he calls himself on the Net.

He has used his skills in computer engineering, physics and web application development to create ISO Hunt, which has five web and two database servers, which together churn out nearly three terabytes of Internet bound HTTP traffic to users each month. The site will be switched to a new high end database server soon.

Gary describes his role as the “founder and perpetual janitor for isoHunt”. 11 forum moderators also work on the site.

That is the background, now here is the man himself.

Slyck.com: When did ISO Hunt open its doors for the first time?

Gary: January 2003.

Slyck.com: Why did you decide to start a torrent website?

Gary: It wasn't a torrent website, BitTorrent wasn’t known back then. It was an IRC search engine, and still is. Although IRC indexing hasn't been updated for some time now, after hardware for it died and I haven't have time to fix that.

I started the torrent search section as I saw great potential in BitTorrent. Its swarming architecture is highly efficient. I thought of a "chained queue" idea on top of IRC XDCC transfers, but BitTorrent is that and more. BitTorrent lacked a search engine just like IRC, so it's natural that I start one.

Slyck.com: Why did you decide on the name ISO Hunt?

Gary: Proper address of the name should be "isoHunt", but that's getting picky. =b

Iso in Internet lingo means CD image. It's a generic name for large files. filesHunt sucks, so I settled on isoHunt. It means the source for finding any large files.

Slyck.com: How many new Torrents does isoHunt index everyday?

Gary: Haven't kept close numbers, turnaround I would say is around 5000 /day (thousands are deleted and thousands are added). isoHunt also acts as a caching mirror and repository of all torrents indexed for an extra 2 weeks after they "disappear" from the Internet, either from the torrent sites or the trackers.

Slyck.com: When indexing Torrents, does isoHunt use its own engine to crawl for torrents around the Internet, or are results collected from a generic search engine and organized?

Gary: For fast indexing, minimal overhead on indexed sites, and accurate .torrent identification, I coded a custom spidering and text parsing algorithm that targets specific html formats of various torrent sites. Here’s the list of the 100+ sites indexed, with torrent counts and stats for each. The problem is many large sites are database driven, and links do not have just a .torrent extension (it would be easy if they all are). We keep a list of specific site URLs as entry points for indexing, as we don't have the spidering resources Google has to index the entire web.

Speaking of which, it is known that you can search for .torrent's on Google with " filetype:torrent", but again that includes only links with the .torrent extension, so Google really only index a small fraction of torrents available. And of course, it doesn't have the .torrent specific stats and details we collect.

Slyck.com: There are other sites which index torrent files from around the web, such as MyBittorrent.com. There is also no shortage of Torrent search engines, such as BT Bot and Tower Search. What makes isoHunt different?

Gary: MyBittorrent.com is interesting, we are figuring out a partnership at a preliminary stage. The rest are frankly either crap or only index a fraction of torrents as we do. Our total unique torrents count is close to 100,000 now, I don't believe there is any other site with a repository of this size. There is also the Releases interface, which integrates ed2k, sig2dat, and other P2P hash links along with .torrent upload. The majority of torrents are indexed from other sites, but there is the facility to upload directly into isoHunt's database.

The slideout details on the search results is also an experimental user interface element I'm proud of, it's more efficient and faster than any other torrent search engine, or many websites for that matter. The torrent details also list additional trackers not present in the .torrent itself, as we cross-reference trackers used across different sites for identical torrents. You can also sort on any column (by name, seeds, etc.) in the search results, by clicking on column headers just like you would on a desktop application. isoHunt also collects comprehensive and fast updating stats from trackers, on seeds and leecher counts for each torrent info_hash (ID which uniquely identifies each torrent). Stats are updated on average every 3 hours. Torrents indexed or uploaded are also modified to take advantage of BTHub tracker redirection, which is another story.

Also we don't allow ActiveX spyware installer in ads, which is not so in some other sites. isoHunt's goal is to provide a comprehensive search utility for P2P resources, without ads that impedes the service.

Slyck.com: What is the BTHub project? How many BitTorrent clients are compatible?

Gary: Glad you asked about BTHub. All clients are compatible. It works by appending additional tracker urls that goes to {info_hash}.bthub.com, which is a dynamic DNS that points the url to that of the optimal online tracker with the largest swarm for the torrent identified by the info_hash. The additional trackers uses the pretty much standard multi-tracker spec, which all reasonably updated BitTorrent clients make use of. Even if an older client isn't aware of this spec, BTHub urls are appended without modifying the original tracker url, so it would still be used as fallback, only that the additional BTHub urls will be ignored.

The point of BTHub is to dynamically direct traffic to the optimal tracker in case the original fails. A tracker for trackers so to speak. Unfortunately this works by adding URLs in a systematic way, so it requires either the BitTorrent site to modify the .torrent as isoHunt do, or adding BTHub-awareness in the BitTorrent clients themselves. But as I said, the BTHub modified .torrent is completely backwards compatible.

Slyck.com: How many visitors does the site get?

Gary: Over 3 million unique visitors and 30 million searches per month. Close to 1000 member registrations per day. For other stats just go here.

Slyck.com: isoHunt can also be used to find .nfo files on IRC. How popular is this relative to the Torrent search?

Not very, there are other specialized sites serving as .nfo repositories. It was an experimental curiosity while indexing IRC, which is not updated right now.

Slyck.com: Last month, BayTSP announced they were providing their customers with the tools to target the original seed of copyright files. The plan was to make releasing files onto the semi-centralized system too dangerous for releasers to continue.

Gary: Since the news broke, has the availability of latest films and other files fallen?

From the numbers, I only see a rising trend of available torrents as far as I can index. Not the death of Suprnova, Lokitorrent or this made any dent. So the answer is no, as far as stats are concerned.

Slyck.com: What, if anything, can be done to protect the original seeds?

Gary: Tor is interesting. However their anonymizing proxies are bandwidth limited, and using it for file sharing purposes would result in a ban, so don't do it. But Tor / onion-style proxy systems are the way to go I think for purposes of internet anonymity in general. There is no 100% anonymity or protection, but there is security in obscurity, which is BitTorrent's greatest strength.

Ultimately, the only true protection comes when the content industry wakes up to the advantages of distribution over P2P over internet. It cuts costs, drives innovation, enables a new kind of targeted and immediate delivery unprecedented in history. When we can work out how to retain fair use rights of file sharers while paying the content creators, seeders will be truly safe.

Slyck.com: Were you surprised by CacheLogic's data, which shows an increase in BitTorrent traffic since the closure of SuprNova?

Gary: While BitTorrent's purportedly total makeup of over 30% of the internet's traffic surprised me, the deaths of individual websites are inconsequential. As I said, from isoHunt's index stats, there was hardly any dent made when Suprnova and later Lokitorrent closed. The Internet and the web is more decentralized than we may give it credit for. One site goes down, 10 comes up. Unless you shutdown the Internet, there is no slowing down.

Slyck.com: Torrent websites often suffer from so-called spam torrents. These are posted by groups who run private trackers in order to increase their user numbers. How does isoHunt deal with this annoyance?

Gary: We haven't yet. On spyware infested occasions we would censor just as we would for identified links to copyright infringing materials. I'm working on a user feedback tagging system, but it's a large undertaking and I haven't figured out how much of it is feasible yet. Right now I'm concerned with the scalability and speed of the search engine more.

Slyck.com: Other torrents can either be dead, fake or poorly labelled. These were rare on SuprNova, which employed an effective system of moderating torrents. Does isoHunt moderate torrents?

Gary: It is isoHunt's policy to not moderate torrents, at least not in the sense of select moderators. Torrents are algorithmically indexed with no manual intervention. Fakes are not a problem yet, but when it is or I have time to implement it, there will be user interfaces to tag torrents as I said.

Torrents are initially uploaded by people, and it's the people who should police them. A difficult goal but it's my goal. It falls in line with the open and democratic nature of the web.

Slyck.com: Despite the legitimate uses, the popularity of isoHunt and BitTorrent lies in the availability of copyright material. Bram Cohen, BitTorrent's creator, warns against using his protocol for piracy due to the poor privacy protection. What do you say to file sharers who use isoHunt as a gateway to copyright works?

Gary: Legally, BitTorrent requires simultaneous upload in order to download. So the concept of "file sharer" on BitTorrent is blurred. Technically, everyone is a sharer, it's a requirement in order to download. So its openness is an unintentional strength. No anonymizing system is completely crack-proof anyways, just like DRM, so poor privacy isn't much of a weakness. Strength in numbers, and security by obscurity.

Morally, I'm a Christian. "Thou shalt not steal." But to me, even copyright infringement when it occurs, may not be necessarily stealing. Man has an innate desire to hoard as well as to share. We have historically been sharing copyrighted works long before P2P arrived, it's written into the law to be legal to share among friends under Fair Use clauses of copyright laws. So whether you should use BitTorrent for piracy, it depends on whether it's done with the intention of stealing.

Slyck.com: Unlike other big Torrent website names, no legal action has been taken against ISO Hunt yet. Have you considered closing isoHunt pre-emptively?

Gary: If there's no danger of legal action, no way would we shutdown preemptively. If there is danger, we fight if there is good chance of winning, and I believe there is. I'm working with the EFF on this, and we will assess again if copyright owners take any more action than request on removal of links to their copyrighted works, which we comply with as per our copyright policy on numerous occasions.

Slyck.com: You sometimes use the news on the front page to post e-mails sent between yourself and the MPAA. Where do you see this dialogue going? Does it surprise you that the MPAA, which is known for bullying disagreeable websites off line, is continuing to hold talks with yourself?

Gary: They haven't yet, so I assume they turned their attention to someone more bulliable or bribable. I will be liaising with the EFF for further actions required of us.

Slyck.com: Is the future of BitTorrent with centralised websites like isoHunt, or with distributed systems like eXeem?

Gary: Neither. While isoHunt will have its place as a search engine and website like any other, the future is with decentralized websites like the hundreds isoHunt indexes currently. eXeem is a profit driven hack on the BitTorrent protocol, with no tangible benefits other than decentralized trackers which clients like Azureus already bundles with. Even if isoHunt goes, another search engine will take its place. As I said, the web is more decentralized than we may think.

Slyck.com: isoHunt has seen many sites come and go. What lessons have you learnt from these less successful sites?

Gary: Innovative technology and service wins in the long run, while greed earns you a stinky name.

Slyck.com: What features does isoHunt plan to implement in the future?

Gary: As I touched on, user tagging and voting on torrents is on top of my list. It gives people the ability to self-moderate all torrents available. We are also exploring the possibility of expanding to searching Usenet binaries as well.

Slyck.com: RIAA or Grokster to win?

Gary: Grokster. At least I hope so. It is the Betamax vs. Universal case all over again, with P2P instead of the VCR. Technology changes, but history should repeat itself. Technology should not, and cannot, be outlawed.

Slyck.com: How do you imagine file sharing in the future? Do you think the RIAA and MPAA will be involved? What about ISO Hunt?

Gary: I don't see the **AA going away anytime soon, but their stranglehold as gatekeepers will be diminished by the Internet. Power to the people. I envision a future where P2P service operators work with content creators to distribute their works directly to their fans, at the same time marketing to potential fans.

Slyck.com: Anything else you would like to add?

Gary: We run, but we do not hide.

And some shameless plugs. We host discussion forums, drop by anytime. There's an offshoot 2nd hand CD key trading forum there, another one of those experimental curiosity with unexpected popularity. isoHunt was my hobby experiment and still is. Watch our frontpage for some groundbreaking new projects coming soon (this is not a tagline, I mean it).

Slyck.com: Thank you for the time you have taken to be with Slyck today. On behalf of our readers, I thank you for everything you have given to BitTorrent and wish you the best of luck with isoHunt in the future.


This story is filed in these Slyck News categories
BitTorrent :: Trackers/Indexers
File-Sharing/P2P Related :: Interviews

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