The Web's most intriguing music-related destinations. This week: Illegal file-sharing and Pitchfork.

THE CHANGING FACE OF P2P: When the original Napster went offline in 2001 after a court battle, the future of peer-to-peer file-trading services on the Web was still unclear to most -- second-generation sites and services were starting up in earnest, but no one really knew where the masses would go.

Two years later, it is clear that despite the industry's valiant efforts, Internet users continue to "share" unlicensed digital music across the Web, via a variety of services. But this illicit marketplace is still growing and evolving, and a recent study by Canadian network equipment manufacturer Sandvine, Inc. reveals it as a "regionally differentiated, multi-application reality."

After Napster's demise, a number of applications based on a file-transfer protocol called Gnutella popped up and grew in popularity, only to be eclipsed over the following year by the FastTrack protocol, which is used in applications such as KaZaA. Sandvine's regionally structured study says that the consumer shift from Gnutella to FastTrack followed a similar pattern across the globe.

But in the past year, the market has become much more diffused across regions. While FastTrack remains the most popular P2P protocol in North America with 76% of the market, European choices have become more proportionally balanced, with different protocols leading the markets in different countries. A new entrant dubbed eDonkey is proving the fastest-growing type of application in terms of popularity, with majority marketshares in Germany and Israel.

One of the interesting conclusions of the study is that Gnutella, which retains an 8% share of the North American P2P user base, is losing significant ground overall, and is all but nonexistent in many European markets, with a share percentage of less than one. That Gnutella was one of the first protocols to emerge and gain popularity in the post-Napster era and is now almost phased out only two years later says a lot about the mutability of the P2P market.

As for the popularity of eDonkey overseas, Sandvine attributes it to the inherent characteristics of the protocol and the file-trading habits of Europeans. EDonkey has been shown to be more effective for the transfer of large files up to hundreds of megabytes, such as movies and other videos, while FastTrack is more suited for sharing small files such as individual songs. Recent studies by analyst firm Jupiter Media Research have shown that European Internet users download more movies per month than their American counterparts. Of U.S. Internet users, only 12% admitted to downloading a video once a month, while 15% of Europeans did the same, led by Spanish users at 38%. EDonkey's local-language support is also cited in the report.

The Recording Industry Association of America and other industry groups have stepped up their efforts in the war against online piracy, but the world of P2P sharing is such a different reality than it was two years ago and the signs suggest this battle is far from over.


STICK A FORK IN: Indie-rock Web mag Pitchfork is well-known for its daily album reviews and news on the independent music community. But it's also come to amass a considerable trove of free MP3 downloads by up-and-coming bands. While not updated on a strict schedule, the site's MP3 section adds new entries about every week.

Through advertising agreements, the site strikes deals with independent labels to feature their MP3s on the site. Just last week, it added free downloads of tracks by April March, Cex, the Autumn Rhythm, Rocketship and a host of others.