The History of File Sharing
File sharing has a long and storied history. From the days of floppy disks and cassette tapes in the 70s and 80s, to the modern era of iTunes, BitTorrent, and other peer-to-peer software, the distribution of music, videos, documents, and computer software has evolved right alongside the technological advancements that it relies so heavily upon.
The Early Internet: Usenet and BBS
During the infancy of the Internet, file sharing occurred primarily on Usenet newsgroups and Bulletin Board Systems. These discussion systems, often operated by computer hobbyists, originally offered communities to talk about computer hardware and software. As the boards grew in popularity, specialized communities began to emerge. Groups representing radio, religion, dating, politics, and everything in between materialized, each gathering its own vast following. Not surprisingly, communities dedicated to sharing software were among the most popular.
The Usenet and BBS phenomena are often credited with introducing the shareware model of distributing computer programs. Consumers downloaded and shared trial versions of games and applications, generating buzz for the program designers. Those who enjoyed the free trials would purchase a complete version of the program, providing income to the designers and giving them the funds to create additional software.
Napster and the Modern Day File-Sharing System
In the late 90s, the popularity of Usenet and BBS began to decline while what is now seen as the modern-day Internet expanded and became more sophisticated. FTP search engines like the Audiogalaxy music-sharing system would take over and provide users with a wealth of files all through one single program. In 1999, the world of peer-to-peer sharing would forever be transformed with Napster, which required only a central server to index its library of files and users. The ease of sharing music through Napster, however, led to a vast distribution of copyrighted files and opened the service up to costly litigation.
In place of Napster, other file sharing programs like eDonkey, Gnutella, Grokster, Kazaa, and Limewire were developed in the coming years. BitTorrent, a new file distribution protocol developed in 2001, also emerged as a valuable method of transmitting media and remains widely in use today.