Kazaa P2P Music Tool Tops 2003 Web Searches

Topping other popular culture icons including Harry Potter, American Idol and Britney Spears among Web searches by millions of Yahoo users worldwide, the Kazaa file-trading music tool was the number one search subject of 2003, Yahoo reported this week.

“Music and multimedia continue to dominate America’s online mindshare as Kazaa, the world’s most popular peer-to-peer file-sharing program, took first place followed by a spate of pop singers,” Yahoo said in reporting the year’s top search subjects.

Pew Internet and American Life Project senior research specialist John Horrigan told TechNewsWorld that Kazaa’s pole position was likely due to popularity in the first half of the year, before the RIAA’s campaign began scaring users away from the free peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing application.

“It’s a bit of a surprise,” Horrigan said. “My guess would be it topped the list mostly on a strong performance early in the year because I think the whole litigation outburst from the RIAA has depressed people’s interest in P2P.”

Potter, Pop Stars and P2P

Kazaa’s top slot among Yahoo search terms puts it among several popular culture icons that included, in order, Harry Potter, American Idol, Britney Spears, 50 Cent and Eminem. The top 10 were rounded out by World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), Paris Hilton, NASCAR and Christina Aguilera.

“The newcomers to the Yahoo Search Top Searches of 2003 continue to show the strength of breakouts from year to year,” said Yahoo Search editor Erik Gunther.

Horrigan said the same factors that drove Yahoo search users to seek out music and entertainment stars and programs are likely what drove them to hunt for Kazaa.

“I think it does signify that Kazaa and, more generally, file sharing as a whole are part of mainstream popular culture,” he said.

File Sharing as a Force

While the RIAA has claimed success in curbing the online swapping of unlicensed music tracks with its legal campaign — more than 1,500 subpoenas, 382 lawsuits and 220 settlements — Kazaa’s top slot on Yahoo’s most-searched list of 2003 shows the power of P2P and the Internet.

Horrigan said that although the RIAA’s strategy has resulted in a drop-off of free file-sharing application users, it is contending with an Internet phenomenon that allows people to “scratch that music itch immediately.”

“I don’t think the litigation changes the fundamental reason people value the Internet: It’s immediate, and music is a powerful cultural influence,” Horrigan said. “The litigation may depress somewhat the interest in free file sharing, but I think people still like it tremendously.”

Suppress and Supplant

Yankee Group senior analyst Mike Goodman said the RIAA’s legal campagin has been successful in transferring online music fans to legitimate, licensed services to a certain degree, but it also has pushed free file trading into other avenues.

“The thing we’ve seen transformed by the RIAA’s success is now there is more music being shared by e-mail and instant messaging,” Goodman told TechNewsWorld. “To a certain extent, it cuts down the reach of shared music, but the bottom line is that it doesn’t stop it.”

Horrigan said Kazaa’s presence atop the Yahoo search subjects illustrates users’ affinity for the Internet’s interactive capabilities combined with music.

Top Tech Terms

Yahoo also reported that ringtones — the musical alerts that take mobile phone rings to another level — was the top technology search term. Ringtones beat out digital cameras and mobile phones among tech search subjects for 2003, according to Yahoo.

“This year’s number one technology search was on ringtones, showing the strength of the musical service that allows users to customize their mobile phone rings,” Yahoo said in its report.

Other subjects that made the top 10 search terms on technology in 2003 included HDTV, MP3 players, iPod, TiVo, Plasma TV, DVD-R and camcorders.

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