CAPS LIKE WHOA (jc) wrote,

Human contact: don't feed the users

This weekend, a few more people learned how crap IRC is when it comes to distributing content to lots of people. I'm talkin' #bt on EFnet, which spawned only a few months before Thursday, when the Motion Picture Ass. of America managed to have it taken off-line merely by suggesting in a press release that they had filed suit against the operators. It's possible that btefnet hasn't been contacted by the MPAA or its lawyers because of the John Doe factor; it's even more possible that the MPAA's waiting until Monday to file the papers, but I'm most inclined to believe that the MPAA is simply lying, with the full knowledge that the merest whiff of any threat of a lawsuit nowadays will scare most operators into shutting down.

The news annoyed me because it served as yet another example of how the MPAA completely fails to understand the concept of "supply and demand". BitTorrent's massive rise in popularity over the past year or so has created a rapidly-increasing demand for the latest US shows in digital format. Much of this demand has, somewhat predictably, come from computer users based outside the USA, who (thanks to an outdated and horribly slow syndication industry) can no longer stand having to wait months or even years to catch up with their American counterparts, by which time any watercooler-type talk surrounding the shows will have long since evaporated.

By repeatedly cutting off the supply, the MPAA is doing absolutely nothing to make up for the demand that remains (and in this case, usually shifts to the next torrent index), and probably now faces worse problems than the Recording Industry Ass. of America faced when Napster first entered the mainstream. TV shows and movies cost a lot more to produce than your average music album, and the logistics involved with any proposed legal download service (iTunes TV Store, anyone?) become a lot more complicated when you factor in global advertising rights, mandated TV licence fees and such. Following the Napster explosion, sites such as btefnet shouldn't have caught the MPAA by surprise, and probably wouldn't have, had they done any forward planning.

That said, upon either hearing the news or discovering for themselves that was down, the masses flocked to the IRC channel that spawned the web site. You can guess what happened next: a torrent (har) of questions the ops either didn't want to or couldn't answer, complaints about the lack of an all-too-precious RSS feed, people telling the ops how to evade U.S. and International law or otherwise run the site better, people telling n00bs to stfu, and - worst of all - plain ol' abuse from users bitter over losing their favourite resource of illegally-copied TV shows.

For the uninformed, #bt is a trigger-based IRC channel: to have a bot send you a file (in this case .torrent files), you type the relevant trigger or "signal" in-channel. Now, imagine a channel which reaches a peak of more than 3,500 users, all either typing a trigger or otherwise "contributing" to channel discussion, and you're left with a scene of absolute chaos where nothing gets done and the operators just get pissed off at the moronic users to the point where this happens:

<asfgjk> Here's a quote from someone who heard about the [possible] MPAA suit (I think he's right on the money, you guys are cunty): sweet. btefnet were the cuntiest ops around. I really hope they sue em each and all!
*** BT-Serv sets channel mode: +m
(this moderates the channel, silencing the vast majority of users)
<@BT-Serv> WTF????
<@BT-Serv> we do this all fro free
<@BT-Serv> and that's what users think
<@BT-Serv> you can all go to hell
<@BT-Serv> keep the chan +m
<@BT-Serv> i don't give a fuck whether these assclowns get torrents or not
<@BT-Serv> all them are ungrateful bastards anyways
<ChAosUK> BT-Serv having a hard day?
<@BT-Serv> that last paste set me off
<@BT-Serv> we do this for fucking free
<@BT-Serv> and ask for NOTHING in return
<@BT-Serv> and to call us cunts
<@BT-Serv> and that they want the worst to hapopen to us
<@BT-Serv> we're the fucking good ppl here
<@BT-Serv> nothing but bitching
<@BT-Serv> complaining
<@BT-Serv> whining
<@BT-Serv> wishing us death
<@BT-Serv> enough is enough
*** BT-Serv has changed topic to "Channel is +m due to users being whiny, bitchy, complaining, and ungrateful bastards. FUCK ALL OF YOU."

That was thirteen hours ago: the channel has remained moderated and invite-only since. In a trigger-based channel, that means no triggers, no torrent distribution, and no new people.

Now, many would react in the same way when faced with that amount of bullshit: many would see this reaction as being indicative of someone who's no better than the whiny brats that inspired his reaction. But this drama all happened on Internet Relay Chat, which brings me back to my argument that IRC is a flawed distribution mechanism when you're dealing with large numbers of people. Because, unlike a web site with an RSS feed and an FAQ page, on IRC you actually have to deal with large numbers of people.

People who talk.

People who try to talk directly to you if you're in a position of importance. People who are frustrated or angry thanks to the situation, and people who simply aren't adaptable or otherwise intelligent enough to make their way peacefully around the IRC distribution method without complaining or asking the channel for help. This doesn't happen with a web site: no need to ask for help when the documentation's in front of you, nobody available to help you if you do get stuck except perhaps a friend. And, in case you needed reminding, friends don't treat friends with disrespect, arrogance or a sense of entitlement when they need help.

Despite a web site's clear advantage over IRC in the way it puts a much-needed wall between the operators and the users, web sites become so popular that they attract lots of unwanted attention. And if you're using a web site to distribute questionable .torrent files, that unwanted attention can get you shut down.

So if you can't have a web site linking to questionable .torrents, and if an IRC channel isn't practical for distributing them, is there a middle ground?

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