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Surf Napster, Live Longer
posted by netwebly | 12.7.2000
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Most people new to Napster make the mistake of assuming that Napster's search function is the best way to find music. This is far from true.

Sure, it's a lot of fun just sitting at your computer and typing in the names of different songs and different bands and seeing what happens, but there will probably come a time when all that thinking and all that typing starts feeling a little too much like work.

The thing to do is to free yourself from all those endless pages of search results filled with stuff you don't want and stuff you don't need. To do this you're going to have to use a new approach - one that experienced Napster masters use most of the time.

Think along these lines. Napster is a network. Sure it's a distributed network - but it's a network nonetheless, the distributed thing is just a detail. Hence Napster can be surfed - just like the web. It can be explored. And it can be conquered. All we need is a board. Or more accurately, something that works sorta like a board.

Meet your surfboard: The hotlist

That something is your hotlist - the deceptively named feature that allows you to both keep track of the people you find on Napster and explore their music collections. Used correctly, the hotlist will give you a headstart when it comes time to go out and start searching for new music. Many Napster users build up pretty sizable lists of names for their hotlists. Some even have hundreds or even thousands of users hotlisted.

The reason they do this? So they can surf instead of spending hour after hour searching.

Try it out
How does this work? It's easy. Start by coming up with a brief list of songs you like. Whatever your musical tastes are, chances are good you'll be able to find at least a couple of them using a straightforward search. Add people to your hotlist until you have populated a nice fat little list. Now, start browsing through the files the people you've added to your hotlist are sharing. You'll notice a couple of things right away.

The average Napster user is sharing a lot of files, in some cases well near a thousand. Using the hotlist, you'll be able to browse through all of them - exploring different collections and downloading songs that sound interesting.

Curious to know what Mother Love Bone sound like? Click. Never knew there was a Smashing Pumpkins cover of Won't Get Fooled Again? Click. Stunned to learn that Axel Rose once did a 65-minute rendition of Sitting on the Dock of the Bay? Click...

The inevitable conclusion...
Spend an hour surfing Napster and you will quickly come to an inevitable conclusion, a conclusion that has a couple of distinct corollaries: There is more music out there than you ever would have thought possible. Music you don't hear on the radio. Music you don't find in the cd store. In short, music you never would have known about if it wasn't for Napster.

And the really interesting thing? A lot of this music is good. A surprisingly high percentage of it, in fact. The reason for this: most people delete bad music - which in my opinion is the way it ought to be. And most don't bother ripping filler in the first place. Few invest the time and energy it takes to rip all the tracks off a cd, unless they're hard-core. They rip the good stuff. And then they go do something else - and you end up with the musical equivalent of the Darwinian Theory of Natural Selection in action.

Sure you'll find plenty of people out there with what can only be described as questionable taste in music. But guess what? You're going to find that you enjoy listening to bad music at times - in the same way real movie fans get hyped about watching really bad movies. As long as you have control, its an adventure. It's when people start forcing you to listen to bad music that the trouble starts....

Strange Days, Indeed...
The other conclusion you'll likely draw - and this is where we start having some real fun - at heart, people have very strange taste in music. The complete freedom Napster allows encourages the exploration of those tastes in ways never before possible.

As you surf, you'll start noticing weird things. Things like people with huge collections of bubble gum pop interspersed with ironic little Camper Van Beethoven classics. Country music fans with an incestuous thing going on the side for Courtney Love. Rap fans listening to Bach. Bach fans listening Rap. How does this happen? What's going on? What is this going to mean for future generations?

If you have any imagination at all, the questions will keep coming. Who are these people? What do they look like? Are they dangerous? Are they fun? What sort of jobs do they have? What do they do when they're not using Napster?

Interesting sociological questions all. And someday somebody will answer all of them. But's it not going to be me - not today anyway. I'm out of time now. Enjoy. And come back soon...

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