Soulseek is a peer-to-peer file-sharing program, used almost exclusively for sharing music files. Something of a veteran among file sharing software applications, the first version of the program developed around 2003 by Nir Arbel (who had previously worked on the then-incendiary Napster).
Being a P2P app, the type of music one might expect to find whilst running it is determined entirely by the users of the day, but Soulseek, born out of the dance scene, was originally intended as a platform for creative hopefuls looking to get their foot in the door, and this ethos is still evident today, as Soulseek continues to enjoy its reputation as a goldmine for unreleased and rare tracks.
The interface, it has to be said, is fairly non-descript, although there are reasons to conclude that this Spartan design is a deliberate aesthetic choice; a heart-on-sleeve statement of functionality over form, and of its non-commercial principals. One of these reasons is the design of the organisation’s logo; this highly pixelated image of a bird that constitutes the site’s one concession to ornamentation is deliberately retrograde (think eighties videogames), and would seem to be a case of “studied carelessness.” Besides, the upside of all this is that the program is nice and easy to use.
Form over function, then. Fair enough. But just how well does Soulseek function ? There are problems, no doubt about it. The hardest to ignore are the download speeds, and the unreliability of the connections; it’s hard not to get impatient when a single song download has you on your third mug of Earl Grey, and even harder not to throw the mug at the monitor as the same download crashes, dismayingly, for the third time. But there are several great features which more than make up for these irritations. One is the ability to “see” how long the queue in front of a particular track is; you know how many people are already waiting for the same download, and you can move on if the queue exceeds the boundaries of your personal patience.
Another neat little feature of Soulseek is that you never have to leave empty-handed; if you try and fail to find that track or artist you were looking for, you can ask the program to remember what you were after via the “Wishlist” feature, and it’ll keep searching even after you’ve hit the sack, and be ready with its results when you log on next morning. And all this can be enjoyed in the comforting glow of Soulseek’s hard-earned, well deserved reputation for sanitisation; you won’t have malware or the like burrowing ever deeper into your OS. Isn’t all that worth a few slow downloads and a simple interface ?
Soulseek may please so many people, but really everybody. Many will find it too limited, too anachronistic when compared to, say, the gleaming splendour of SongR, with its multitude of features and visual options. Others, weaned on Youtube, will cry “where’s the video, Ma?”
But for music purists who value a sense of community with their file sharing (and who just can’t find that darned song anywhere else), Soulseek has to be the Rolls Royce of the music-swapping highway. Highly recommended.
About SoulSeek, LLC
Soulseek was very much a collaborative effort between the developer Mr Nir Arbel and SoulSeek’s users, upon whose recommendations and user-end assessments, not to mention actual code, Arbel relied to round off the original programs’s corners. (Indeed, this two-way process was just that, in the truest sense of the phrase; some of the Dance music out of which Soulseek was born was mixed by none other than Arbel himself.) Nowadays, SoulSeek is still developed and maintained by Arbel, with the help of some five administrators; an organisation modest in scale, then, although even this relatively small team represents a more-than two-fold increase in staff since its inception in 2002. And for all that the service has a substantial fan-base of users, Arbel is keen to point out that Soulseek is far from being a cash-cow, and since the service has remained free since its launch in 2002 and contains no advertisements, there seems little reason to doubt this claim. Perhaps for this reason, then, Soulseek’s donation facility offers more than a simple appeal to users’ altruism; the pot is sweetened somewhat by the inclusion of special “queue-jumping” privileges for those who donate. (Go on – you’ll feel good about it after.)
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