Napster Meets Instant Messaging

Take the most popular instant-messaging program and an Internet file-sharing system that defies censorship or control. Put them into a software stew. The result is Aimster.

Aimster piggybacks on two technologies that connect individual Internet users. One is America Online’s AOL Instant Messenger, or AIM for short, the messaging software now used by tens of millions of people.

Aimster’s real purpose is to let people share data. For this it uses the Gnutella file-sharing system.

By being a file-sharing program, Gnutella resembles the hugely popular Napster, which has been under legal attack from the music industry. Under the hood the two are different. Unlike Napster, Gnutella doesn’t require centralized computers to work. It can also be used to share all kinds of files, not just music.

But Gnutella, an ”open source” package that’s freely available for download and modification, is difficult to set up and operate. Aimster tries to solve this problem with a more user-friendly interface that users can modify with different ”skins” suited to one’s own taste.

Aimster’s creators believe they have a clever solution to one of Napster’s bigger problems, namely the legal one. When Aimster users share files, they can only share with people on their AIM ”buddy lists” — people who tend to be colleagues, family or friends.

John Deep, an Aimster co-founder, said from the company’s office in Troy, N.Y., that this several benefits for users. First, they’re in a safer environment by definition, with people they’ve allowed to be buddies. Second, he said, the law permits friends to share music for personal use.

I’m no lawyer, but I suspect that the paranoid recording industry will sic its well-paid legal sharks on Aimster. I also suspect they’ll lose this time, but the law has been tilted strongly toward copyright holders lately.

Then there’s the ever-voracious AOL, which just hates it when people do anything with AIM that AOL hasn’t authorized. Aimster uses the AIM software itself as part of the package. So as far as AOL can tell, the Aimster user is simply using AIM, Deep said.

Here’s my instant message about Aimster, and you’re free to share it: This looks pretty clever.

Regulators Do Right by Investors

AP: SEC adopts rule barring companies’ advance notice to analysts. Critics of selective disclosure, including SEC Chairman Arthur Levitt, say it unfairly gives a privileged few access to company information — and the opportunity to trade on it — that is denied to others.

This rule is one of the best thing the Securities and Exchange Commission has done in years. Selective disclosure has been a scandal.

You have to be amused by the bleatings of Wall Street and corporate insiders who think it’s fine to leak information to a favored few. They say information will now flow less efficiently as a result of the new rules.

Bull. Technology gives companies an easy way to get information to the world quickly. Why, for example, don’t companies offer e-mail bulletins to shareholders and other interested parties? If they’re making an announcement, they can send the email to everyone at the same time. This isn’t rocket science.

Wall Street has thrived for years on creating markets and, simultaneously, choke points. The SEC’s new rule will be good for everyone but the analysts and insiders who made money on deliberate inefficiency.

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