Napster, version 2.0: The cheap thrills have faded away

Pop Culture

November 02, 2003|By Julia Furlong and Meredith James | Julia Furlong and Meredith James,SUN STAFF

Remember that friend from high school whom your parents hated? The one who always knew where the best parties were, always knew the minimum number of credits to pass senior year, always knew those few crucial tricks to skirt the law?

Imagine how sad it would be to encounter this same friend at a reunion only to hear him boast about his extensive duties as PTA president and his strategies in winning his neighborhood lawn contest.

Something just like that was happening to the avid illegal music downloader this past week as he surfed through the new Napster 2.0, which shares little more than the kitty-head logo with its dissident predecessor. The pioneer file-sharing service, once a safe haven for millions of downloading rebels, appears to have finally sided with the Record Industry Association of America.

With the new Napster, downloading the latest Outkast track or classic Grateful Dead relic costs more than a few bits of hard drive space. The 2.0 version allows free previews of just 30 seconds, with full-length songs priced at 99 cents each and an entire album at $9.95. While the service is relatively cheap and convenient when compared with its retail counterparts, as B.B. King would wail, "the thrill is gone."

At the pinnacle of the old Napster, even the most saintly music lovers became culprits as they hoarded hundreds of their favorite artists' works. When a federal appeals court finally ordered that the service halt distribution of bootleg music in February 2001, users responded by flooding the service with up to 130 million downloads a day.

Napster 2.0 not only charges for each download, it offers a significantly less diverse selection of media. Saturday Night Live fans used to spend Sunday mornings watching Tracey Morgan's character Brian Fellows in a skit from the previous night's show. Now, the only non-audio medium is a slim selection of 34 mainstream music videos.

Even more daunting, all songs available are from released CDs, which sadly excludes live tapings like the Dave Matthews Band's rendition of Vince Guaraldi's Peanuts theme. And forget about most remixes.

So what's in the new Napster's favor?

The previews remove the annoyance of searching and weeding through several versions to find high-quality sound. Searching and browsing features are easier to use, and an artist biography and history pops up with every search. Other features, though, such as Mix Tape, which allows users to choose songs from a selected list to make a personal audio collage, convolute the site and make it difficult to navigate.

Napster 2.0 is also quite artful, boasting a sleek and futuristic look. Unfortunately, this reminds the would-be downloader of its corporate influence.

You can't blame Napster 2.0 for trying, of course, but its attempts at maintaining the old image are, at times, laughable.

In the new Napster music universe, U2 is "country" while Stevie Wonder is "Latin."

Unlimited file-sharing may be illegal, but that is just wrong.

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