The Way Things Used To Be

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BlastGT1

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This old pirate has a story or two to tell, about life on the high seas back in the golden ages, so kick back and enjoy. We'll have some rum, sing some chanteys, and perhaps even find some treasures you swabbies never knew existed. I will warn you up front that this is a long post, and don't expect a TL;DR from me, because that's not how I do things. If you care about history, you will want to read this.



Torrenting. Most of you probably know it as the way to get movies, TV episodes, music, and various other booty without paying a fortune. Oftentimes you can get your treasure even before the public does. A few clicks and a couple of search phrases, then you wait as your precious loot is delivered to you ever so quickly. Sounds easy, you say? Well, it is easy. TOO EASY. Let me tell you about a magical time in history. It was a time before seedboxes, a life before internet speeds that let you snatch full blu-ray releases within the hour, an era where pre times only existed on topsites. My fellow pirates, let me paint you a verbal picture of what it was like to truly share. A time I call the Golden Age of Torrenting.

2004. This is the year I made my first foray into torrenting. I had been a file sharer since the original Napster days, back in 1999 when I first experienced the internet, and the sweet, sweet sound of a 56k dial-up modem handshake. I had tried most of the sharing clients out there. Napster, AudioGalaxy, WinMX, Morpheus (before its temporary hiatus and its return as utter shyte), Kazaa/Kazaa Lite/K++, DirectConnect/DC++, IMesh, Gnutella, BearShare, eDonkey/eMule.....these were my faithful friends. Then one day, I was told about a place called Suprnova. It was billed as a website where you could find far more booty than any one pirate could ever hope to find elsewhere. Alas, when I tried to download a file, I discovered that I needed to add a new method to my madness. Enter the bittorrent client.

My first torrent client ever was called Shareaza, an app that tried to combine torrents and other sharing networks. Let me tell you, it was so terrible that I abandoned torrenting for a little while after using it, thinking that if this is how slow things go, that I would prefer my old methods. However, I soon discovered that there were other, much better options available, and elected to set sail again towards this mysterious port of call. I discovered the OG BitTorrent client, but was very unsatisfied with the interface; one small window for each individual torrent, with precious little information wherewith to judge speed, estimated download time, etc. This wasn't much better than Shareaza, I thought, except that the speeds were better and it didn't slow my PC to a crawl. Still, this just wasn't good enough, so I began searching for a better client, and found one named BitComet.

Yarr, mateys, this be me new ship fer sailin' tha seven torrent seas! She was a fine vessel, yes she was. She could haul the loot by the ton, and she managed it all from a single porthole! This pirate could manage multiple downloads in a single window, and what's more, he could see upload AND download speeds at the same time, and many more statistics that he was never previously aware of! Saints be praised, it was indeed a good day to be a pirate! A day of mourning soon came to pass, as Suprnova, along with another torrent site I had discovered named LokiTorrents, were sunk by heavy fire from the king's navy. But the mourning would not last, as I found another safe haven, aptly named.....The Pirate Bay!

Oh, that place known by the acronym TPB, a place now looked down upon by old sea dogs, and praised by fresh-faced swabbies. You can't imagine what a paradise it was once upon a time! Why, it was the place I downloaded my first copy of the All Windows DVD, which had literally every single release of Windows from 1.0 clear up to Server 2003 Datacenter edition. It was so large that I had to burn two DVD's for it! Oh, the rapture that was a site with tens of thousands of torrents, providing more plunder than I had ever dreamed existed, even providing me with the test answers for four semesters of Cisco CCNA classes! If only I had discovered that gold nugget before I had gone three semesters deep in the most diabolical of networking disciplines! I shared this with the few other pirates I was in alliance with at that time, and they too were left in awe and wonder. Of course, other similar shores beckoned, islands with names such as Isohunt and TorrentSpy.

2005. This was the year I discovered private torrent sites. Starting with Demonoid, where I was fortunate enough to find my way in via open signup. More pillaging ensued, and I frequently had to deposit my hauls in a hideout known as the CD-R and DVD-R in order to continue gathering more. You may argue that Demonoid is not a private site because people can download without signing up. We'll have to agree to split the difference and call it semi-private. What mattered was the content I was able to find there, such as my first copy of WindowBlinds, as well as various other programs in the StarDock stable. Then came the most influential landfalls I have ever made, to this very day. A pirate's haven like no other I have ever known, this sacred land called TorrentIt, abbreviated by those within its ranks as TiT. The Pirate Bay may have had a pirate ship with skull and crossbones on its mainsail, but this land.....this land truly WAS a pirate's paradise. Everywhere you went, things looked authentic. The walls were made of parchment paper. The ship was a silhouette against the full moon. The brown color of stained wood was underfoot, and there was even a mascot.....a sexy female pirate named Skully, complete with blunderbuss in hand and cutlass strapped to her side. I knew then that I would never find another place to call home.

I was welcomed aboard after passing a test of intelligence and intent, also known as a signup application. I had just recently learned about something known as share ratio, and when answering questions on the application, I stated my clear intent to share with my pirate brethren, whether it be booty already pillaged, or something new that I discovered myself if it did not already exist there. I learned much later that I was very fortunate to be accepted into the brotherhood, as 8 of every 10 applicants were rejected on average. This is also the first site where I was allowed the then-sacred privilege of UPLOADING brand new treasure for the brotherhood to share.

Allow me to explain something about sharing and ratio. You swabbies with your seedboxes or fast broadband connections know absolutely nothing about what it means to keep a good ratio. NOTHING! This was a day and age where the fastest home connection available was 8Mb down/1Mb up, and it was not cheap. What you now call seedboxes were once known as dedicated servers, or dedi's, and they could cost upwards of $200 USD per month, dependent on specifications, and this was for 100Mbit speeds and a data transfer quota of 1 TERABYTE per month. Only the elite had one, and they were more often than not also involved in what you may know as racing. The common torrenter had an abysmal fraction of that speed, and there were limits on uploaders for file sizes and number of concurrent torrents based on their speeds. My speeds at the time qualified me for the rank of Basic Uploader, with limits of 1.8GB file size per torrent, and one active upload at a time. (Uploaders also had specifics on how they uploaded, as all torrents had to be in split RAR format whether it was a scene release or not, and you had to provide a .nfo file and a .sfv file, which meant you were including a checksum on every torrent you uploaded.) I was proud to know a fellow pirate who maintained a 1.25 ratio on a dual 56k ISDN connection, averaging 15kB/s both directions. Yes, boys and girls, you did indeed read that correctly. He was damned proud of his ratio, as were we all. Your e-penis was exceptionally large if you had a ratio of 3.0 or better, and you wore your ratio badge and rank of Elite User with the utmost honor. A pirate also had to prioritize his or her seeding and leeching in accordance with their speeds, and you never saw what these days are called ratio whores. We also didn't seed literally hundreds to thousands of torrents at once, and there was no such thing as FREE LEECH. Your choice was to make it or break it with your ratio, and those who broke it were forced to walk the plank.

TorrentIt also taught me about having pride in your torrent community. In an age where you might have needed one friend alongside to count the number of known private sites with fingers and toes, you treated your site like you would your own home. You kept your area clean, and kept your eyes on new recruits, and if someone stepped out of line, seldom did the staff have to step in and punish the offender because the brotherhood jumped on the scalawag first. If you didn't like the laws of the land, you were strongly encouraged to set sail for distant shores. The community, indeed the brotherhood of TiT, was very much like family. From all walks of life, and all types of upbringing, we were a family. We got to know each other well in the forums and in IRC, and the regulars always had a running joke or inside references. A pirate knew they were truly a player in the community if the staff called them by name and included them in more than just Q&A sessions. I was one of those, earning the custom title of Unofficial Spokesman at one point, before eventually becoming the "Official Unofficial Spokesman" by way of being promoted to Moderator. I clearly remember being flush with pride and humbleness at the same time, honored to serve my community from a position of much greater responsibility, and receiving much praise and congratulations from my fellow pirates for being awarded said post. They were genuinely happy for me, and I was genuinely happy to serve them to the best of my ability.

2006. This is the year that I consider the last "great" year of torrenting. My primary reason for this was the prolific rise in ratio cheating, coupled with a practice coming into vogue called trading. Before trading (and later selling) invites became such a huge thing, You had to earn your way into a site, and people took that seriously. You more often got into a site via an invite from a fellow member at a different site. There were no invite threads, ever. In fact, nobody even thought of the idea. Invites were given by friends, hooking you up for no other reason than the fact that they knew you could find a particular item of value elsewhere, and because they happened to be there, they would bring you into their community. Sadly, the rise of cheat clients made sites much more suspicious, to the point that in later years many sites would keep track of past torrent stats and IP addresses for all users. This was (and still is) a major hole when it comes to member security. Why, you ask? It is because trackers used to drop all data on any torrents you downloaded or uploaded once you stopped a torrent in your client. You would no longer see that torrent in your user profile, and staff could not see IP addresses for anything but your current session on the site or tracker, and that meant far less exposure if a site were to be taken down by anti-piracy groups.

By 2007, the job of staffing a torrent site was quickly becoming more about catching cheaters, traders, and sellers than it was about patrolling the forums and checking torrents for quality. It turned into crimefighting, if you will, and the fun began to decrease as the workload increased. I continued to staff, holding positions from Forum Mod all the way to SysOp/Owner, until mid-2011. I had been staff at no less than 11 different private sites by that point, some small, some large, and the love was gone. Seedboxes were the norm, meaning many people did not have to work hard to get their ratio up. Free Leech had become commonplace, and loyalty to a "home site" had become something that only the oldschoolers discussed or cared about. Each new generation of torrenters, year by year, learned less and less about the history of torrenting, and cared less and less about anything except how soon and how fast they could grab what they wanted. Selfishness was now the prevailing practice, and sites rose and fell sometimes day by day. I was also sick of so many sites asking for and expecting donations from members to fund site seedboxes and scene axx, some asking for as much as $1300 USD per month. Can you believe that?

When torrent sites required a real-deal coder and a significant amount of money for hosting, there were few of them, and the quality of every aspect was magnified. Nothing was taken for granted, because you couldn't just google for a private site and find one. It was a simpler time, and in my opinion, and infinitely better time. For those of you who weren't around for the Golden Age, you will never know what you have missed out on. You will never understand what it was like to be truly invested, not just in a site, but in a community, and you will never experience the satisfaction of a hard-earned ratio. Sure, you can get stuff within seconds of pre, rather than days, weeks, or even months, but having experienced both, I genuinely long for the good old days.

As a tribute, I would like to name at least a few sites from those glory days of old, sites that I was privileged enough to be a member of, and sites which had owners of honorable intent. If it breaks any current site's rules about mentioning their name, well, I'm sorry but I'm not sorry, and you'll get over it. TorrentIt (TiT) of course, Legendary Torrents (LT), FatalTracker, Aradi, EliteTorrents (ET), Acid-Lounge (A-L), TorrentBytes (TBy), Midnight Torrents (MT), Day of Release (DoR), Feedthe.Net (FTN, of which one of the founders was also a founder of DoR), Phoenix-PT (PPT, predecessor to PTFiles, aka PTF), BitMe/BitMeTV, Learnbits (LB), FunSharing Club (FSC), Revolt. I am or have been a member of all the above sites, and there are many I haven't mentioned, either because I've forgotten or because I will not give them props due of bad behavior by staff, be it past or present.

I hope you all have found this to be an interesting commentary and story, as it has taken longer for me to write it than it will take for you to read it. If you have questions, comments or opinions, please do post in this thread. I am always happy to share my experience and knowledge with fellow pirates, and I relish being able to provide the "younger generation" with a different perspective and a lesson in history. Thanks for reading, and leave a rating on my post as well, whether you liked it or disliked it. I don't mind either way, as everyone is entitled to their opinion, but I would like to have an idea of how many people found it to be a worthwhile post, for better or for worse.



Cheers from a former Admiral,

BlastGT1
 

cherwonk

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Arrr Matey, I remember those days the pleasant dream it was. Torrenting had structure, it had COMMUNITY.
Excellent piece BlastGT1, I remember all those sites, brings a tear to my eye .. all those memories, all that comradery. While yes, some of those sites still sail high seas. Unfortunately they are a mere shell of the once great communities there were once. Even my beloved FT is like being on a ghost ship these days. In the effort to make the Hydra indestructible, $40 dollar servers and one click site code made it so every swabbie that felt the urge could start a site.
Thanks for reminding me of how it was, hopefully things can come full circle and sites will once again be a place we all can be proud of..
 

botanica

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Ha, what a great read!
I do remember (though vaguely as I was 12 maybe 14 yrs old then) using Kazaa and BitComet!
And the sound of modem handshake... music for my ears :)
 
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Dwarsligger

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Lol, the Kazaa and Shareaza times were something else indeed compared to what's available now. Unfortunately my path as from 2005 went slightly different and made me miss the better things as you describe them. I also joined my 1st private tracker then and didn't search for things besides that one, not knowing about other greater trackers because that one combined with TPB gave me almost everything I needed (without constant nagging about donations even!). Or so I believed at that time by lack of knowledge, never used a seedbox or something until TPS kind of opened my eyes...
Thanks for sharing what I missed out on by taking the wrong turn! ;)
 
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othersna

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Though I may be far up in age, compared to Blast I'm still a relative newcomer to torrenting, and missed the early days when torrent sites were created and rose up. I started using TPB back in 2008. I thought it was still the "Golden Era" when I started using private trackers in 2009, but it looks like it was 2006. (In 2006 I was still at my Reality TV message boards wondering how I could get good quality copies of the shows on my hard drive...)

Ironically I see less of a fuss about trading and cheating as there seems to be less of an interest in private trackers as a whole. Plus I thought invite trading was fairly commonplace until it really started to fall out of favor in 2008. (When N3v3R created TPS as a non-trading invite forum in 2008 that was a fairly novel concept.)

Anyway, thanks for the great history, Blast.
 
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marigold

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I really enjoyed reading this post, as my early downloading history parallels that of BlastGT1 BlastGT1 's. What really strikes me is that with the increasing internet speeds and seedboxes, we seem to have lost the p2p aspect of torrenting. What I have noticed, that unless there are ratio rules in place, there is a grab-grab mentality which excludes sharing. Until very recently I did not have a music tracker and therefore got all my music (admittedly minimal) from places like TPB and other open trackers. And whenever I do/did, I still will generously seed back.
 
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BlastGT1

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marigold marigold , so true! That's what I've been saying for several years now, including in an interview I did with Castagnety Castagnety on TPS Radio back in 2010, that seedboxes have really taken a lot of the sharing sentiment out of it, and they also cause a lot of overseeding at the expense of those without seedboxes. The way things are now, people might as well just use newsgroups, since paying for a seedbox is essentially a way to keep from bogging down your own PC with torrent bandwidth. You're paying either way, and you're not having to seed from your home PC in either instance, so why not eliminate the middleman, right? Additionally, you're a bit safer downloading from newsgroups than torrent trackers, regardless of how badly anti-piracy groups would love to shut down newsgroups too.

On a side note, it's always nice to see a lady getting involved in filesharing. There are enough men as it is, and having women in the mix always gives things a second perspective and spurs different conversations. Don't stop marigold marigold !
 
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cherwonk

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Nice post, brings back memories.
Think the oldest private tracker i'm on is from 2004, i joined in 2007. Makes me wonder what the oldest tracker is that is still surviving.
http://filenetworks.blogspot.co.uk/2009/02/fataltracker-oldest-private-bittorrent.html
Feb 2003 Fataltracker, I think thats the oldest site still running. Although it has changed names along the way, Fataltracker--> Fatalbits--->Fataltracker and then from .org, .net, .com, .me and so on. The last few years they've been hounded by FACT, mostly because of my association with the site. This caused a few server changes and the loss of PayPal accounts :(

But for now I guess they are on an unreliable server in the Ukraine if I'm not mistaken. They no longer accept donations because there isnt a way to process them for now. We are looking into new and different ways .
 
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monkies8it

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Man that takes me back, thanks! Shareaza, e-mule, bearshare....they were SOOOOO amazing back then. I clearly remember how intimidating the idea of ratio was during the 56k days... Even made me think back to sneakernet when I was running a bbs on 2 C64s with dual 5 1/4 drives....
 
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BlastGT1

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Finally found it, the .mp3 of my TPS Radio interview with Castagnety, in case anyone is interested in listening to it. I am not 100% sure if it was from 2009 or 2010, but I want to say early 2010. Anyway, I apologize in advance for the somewhat nasally voice (must have had a bit of a cold at the time) and for swallowing the mic, I didn't trust the people in IRC who told me I needed to back off. Sorry for your poor ears!
 

Mairon

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What an amazing post.

The first few paragraphs felt like a stroll down memory lane. I was delighted to find I wasn't the only one checking all those weird clients in a search for the "ultimate" one that would behave nicely with my 56k modem speed...., or the only one missing what you aptly named "The Golden Age".

But then reality reared its ugly head, as it is in life, and you took us slowly and painfully, into the woes of today's torrenting....

This was a delightful reading and IMHO an important re-tale of history.
 
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m@ke

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wow!! great post
...this bring memories.. almost cried...
winmx was my start in sharing world.

gj BlastGT1
 
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Sting

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I agree the affordability and commonality of seedboxes and faster internet connections have made ratio's surplus to requirements. Though prior to purchasing a seedbox it wasn't always easy sailing to maintain ratios for me. Internet speeds in Australia are still horrible compared to the rest of the world and my upload speed prior to upgrading my contract at the start of this year was only 30kb/s! Now its jumped to a massive 200kb/s which has made my life much easier...

So if any of you want to relive the struggle of maintaining ratios, I recommend you move to Australia. ;)
 
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Presently42

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This is an excellent post, and a well told story. It's lovely to read about the stories of other torrenters; especially when they have been using it roughly as long as I have. The ways in which we differed are most interesting.

I had a rather lengthy rebuttal planned, but I don't want to steal OP's spotlight by posting it here.
 
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