Napster, Gnutella: URN lookup services?

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From: Jim Whitehead (
Date: Wed Jun 28 2000 - 09:51:42 PDT

So, it dawned on me today that the name of a song, along with its band name,
acts as an identifier for the song. Hence, it is possible to construct a
Uniform Resource Name (URN) for songs, following syntax rules given in RFC
2141 <>. Examples being:

     (The Cars, Good Times Roll)

     (The Beatles, Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds)

An additional field could be added for song variants:

     (Orb, Little Fluffy Cluds, Live)

This being the case, Napster and Gnutella start looking like URN resolution
services. Of course, Napster and Gnutella are also capable of handling
searches just on song name, and just on group name, which could also be
handled by introducing a wildcard into the name:

     (A collection resource containing all of the songs by The Cars)

Presumably user interfaces would hide the syntax of such URNs from
non-technical users.

Since there are now multiple services that can resolve (band name, song)
pairs into actual resources, it would be handy to have a URN resolver
discovery service around, so that you could discover which of several
resolver services coul dbe used to access a particular song. The scheme
discussed in RFC 2168 <>
doesn't seem like it would work, since it appears to have a centralized
point of access (DNS server at and isn't capable of handling the
dynamism in Gnutella and Napster, where music resources may only be
locatable at a particular place for a short period of time.

Still, the question remains whether Naptser and Gnutella offer any insight
into resolution of other types of URNs (such as ISBN, ISSN, etc.
<>). And, they continue to
raise the issue of how much value there is in controlling a particular
namespace resolution service. Though it seems strange to contemplate now,
what would happen if song owners had to pay Napster to resolve requests to
their music? This is how the DNS system works today, you pay to register
your domain name, and pay to have it reolved to a particular machine.
Napster can be viewed as an attempt to control the namespace resolution
services for an extremely valuable class of intellectual property.

- Jim

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