Shawn Fanning began to develop an idea as he talked with friends about the difficulties of finding the kind of MP3 files they were interested in. He thought that there should be a way to create a program that combined three key functions into one. These functions are:
* Search engine: Dedicated to finding MP3 files only
* File sharing: The ability to trade MP3 files directly, without having to use a centralized server for storage
* Internet Relay Chat (IRC): A way to find and chat with other MP3 users while online
Fanning, only 18 at the time, spent several months writing the code that would become the utility Napster. He uploaded the original beta version to download.com, where it quickly became one of the hottest downloads on the site. Shawn knew he had stumbled on to something big.
Even though Napster was banned from about 40 percent of U.S. colleges and universities when it was operating in its illegal form, some of the biggest users of Napster were college students. There are several reasons for this:
* College students tend to like music.
* Colleges and universities have spent lots of money making high-speed Internet access and computers available to students.
* College students tend to be comfortable with technologies like MP3.
* College students tend to have little money.
P2P utilities that employ this decentralized approach are virtually impossible to shut down. Since there is no central server maintaining the index of users, there is no easy way to target and stop the use of the program. Many of the content developers in music, video and other industries are beginning to realize that fundamental changes in the way royalties and licensing work are vital to keep up with the revolutionary world of the Internet.
Probably the biggest question that most people have about Napster is, "How did they make money?" The short answer is, "They didn't." Initially, Napster was not intended to be a revenue-generating business. Like many great inventors before, Shawn Fanning created the program to see if it could be done, not because of money. But even he had no idea how big it would become.