Napster Usage Down 10 Percent Since Wednesday

That's when embattled file-sharing service updated filtering methods; previously, usage increased roughly 3.5 percent per week.

Has the great migration away from Napster begun? That depends on whom you ask.

Napster's usage numbers are about 10 percent lower than they were before the service updated its filtering methods Wednesday, according to Matt Bailey, an analyst for Webnoize, which tracks the number of users and files shared on Napster servers. Prior to filtering, Bailey said Napster was seeing a user-increase of about 3.5 percent each week.

A look at Napster servers Monday afternoon (March 19) showed between 5,000 and 8,000 users logged on at any given time, sharing anywhere between 600,000 and 935,000 files. That's down considerably from the weeks prior to the latest filtering, when users often exceeded 10,000 per server, sharing more than a million files.

On Monday a spokesperson for Napster acknowledged the drop but said the file-sharing service's overall user community — everyone who has used Napster at least once — still exceeds 60 million. Napster could "still base a business on half of that," the spokesperson said.

Napster users are finding it tougher to locate some popular music. While a search Monday afternoon for Crazy Town's #1 single, "Butterfly," yielded dozens of matches, a search for Madonna's #9 song, "Don't Tell Me," came up empty.

Most of the rest of the Billboard top-10 singles were available Monday, though in various quantities. Searches for Shaggy's "Angel" and Joe's "Stutter" brought up 100 matches. But matches for Jennifer Lopez's "Love Don't Cost a Thing" varied from between 10 and 54 on four separate searches, while four searches for Lenny Kravitz's "Again" returned between 43 and 100 hits.

In all of those cases, at least some of the matches included incorrect file names, such as "Kravitz, Lenny — wonder if I'll ever see you again," indicating that users are still finding ways to get around the filters. A search for Madonna without specifying a song title returned no hits Monday, but a search for "Madona" brought up 100 matches.

But that search and others routinely took nearly 40 seconds, confirming Napster's warning that filtering would slow down its network.

So are users flocking to other file-sharing services, such as Gnutella clones, which, unlike Napster, allow users to connect to each other without going through a central source? Downloads of Bear Share have gone "through the roof," according to FreePeers' Vincent Falco, who developed the software. Falco did not have specific numbers, but he added that the new version of Bear Share informs users if another user's computer is busy, increasing the chances of successful downloading.

Another Gnutella clone, LimeWire, tracks usage on the Gnutella network hourly, posting those numbers on its Web site. Gnutella network usage has skyrocketed since Napster's new filtering, according to LimeWire, going from a peak of about 13,000 "hosts" — computer users who are accepting connections from others — Wednesday to a high of more than 18,000 hosts Sunday.

But Gnutella clones are still too difficult to use, and the network is too slow, for music fans accustomed to Napster's easy-to-use interface and relatively quick service, Bailey said. He predicts they will migrate to Music City and other servers that use Open Nap, which, like Napster, provide an index of the files available from all users. Music City's usage prior to Napster's increased filtering averaged between 15,000-20,000 at any given time; now, it's between 30,000-35,000, he said.

"It's only the start of the migration," Bailey said. "It's still possible to get a lot of content on Napster that isn't included on the lists of songs that the labels and RIAA submitted."

Napster said Thursday that it had filtered 60,000 songs with more than 10 million file names. The spokesperson said that the increased difficulty of finding some tunes "just shows that we're doing what we're supposed to be doing."

(For complete coverage of the Napster saga, check out MTV News' "Napster Files.")