Skype is down – FastTrack came back to haunt them…

August 17, 2007

Some of you might remember a year in the distant past of internet time: 2002. Only five years have passed but things could hardly have changed more: the record labels and RIAA were fighting Kazaa and Morpheus, trying to jam shut pandora’s box (well, so much hasn’t changed here, after all…) and telcos were still charging rediculous rates for long-distance calls, while a former wizard and analyst darling Bernie Ebbers saw his WorldCom empire file for Chapter 11.

Today Kazaa and Morpheus are gone while the record labels are still fighting legal battles against its file-sharing-successors LimeWire, et al., still trying to defend an outdated business model by legal and regulatory means, just like the telcos who saw their profitable long-distance business crumble under the pressure of VOIP. The connection between the pressure on both of these industries was and is not to a small degree exerted by one protocol: FastTrack. And another time the protocol came back to haunt the ones who use it. This time around it is Skype, the VOIP company everybody loves. Until now.

Just like Kazaa and Morpheus, the major file-sharing platforms in 2002, Skype is based on P2P-technology, which should make it resistant to any failures due to its decentralized nature, where users connect each others computers directly, peer-to-peer. So far the theory, and the court-room argument of Kazaa back in 2002 which went like this: since Kazaa is based on the FastTrack-P2P-protocol, there is nothing Kazaa can do to stop the illegal file-sharing, as they can’t centrally shut down a P2P-network. But while Kazaa was distributing their file-sharing-client along with a nice set of spyware, Morpheus came without spyware. Both were using the Kazaa-owned FastTrack protocol. Due to this fact the user base of Morpheus was much bigger than Kazaa’s. And while the court-rooms and labels were — sort of — buying Kazaa’s argument of an unstopable P2P network, Kazaa did the unthinkable to kill the competition from Morpheus: it released a new version of FastTrack and from one minute to the other all Morpheus-users were disconnected from its “P2P”-network.

Great strategic move to kill off the competition? Not really. If FastTrack is soooo P2P and therefore without any central control by Kazaa, how then can they kill Morpheus off easily by simply releasing a new version of the protocol? The court rooms weren’t buying Kazaa’s argument anymore and the labels wanted millions in compensation.

The Kazaa founders have moved on founding Skype on the same protocol that Kazaa was based on, settling the labels’ Kazaa claims from the millions they made with the $4.1bn takeover of Skype by eBay in 2005. Since yesterday the millions of Skype users that weren’t around in the Kazaa/Morpheus days of the FastTrack protocol know what relying on a network of central nodes can mean: eBay is seeing its worst-case-scenerio come true, Skype has been down for over 24 hours now. Morpheus did never really recover from this blow as enough competitors were just around the corner. It’s not like it’s any different for Skype — Google Talk, Yahoo Messenger, etc. are not that bad after all once you made the switch. And more than 24 hours of downtime should be just as much time as users need to do so…