Web Masters Episode #23: Michael Merhej

Unless you’ve only just gotten onto the Internet in the last few years, you’ve surely heard of Napster. But Napster wasn’t the first music sharing service. On Web Masters, hear the story of Audiogalaxy, the file sharing FTP search engine that originally gave Internet users their fill of free music downloads.


Image result for audiogalaxy logo

Michael Merhej:

… so we shut it down in 2002. I tried my best to work out something with the major labels, because my goal is just access. I want people to have access to this content. That’s what people cared about. Paying for it is not an issue, it’s really about the availability of the content. At least that’s what I found fascinating. If people really want to take content and not pay for it, I mean, there’s always been a way to do that. They can burn a CD and share it with friends or whatever it may be. This is really about accessibility for discovering bands, discovering new content. I really wanted to preserve that, but I think with our size and the media attention we were getting, the labels felt like they had no other choice, which I think it’s a lost opportunity for them, because I think there was a dark time afterwards.

That’s there in the past and it’s also very hard, we were a tiny company, right? We have very little resources and it’s not something that we could navigate. We didn’t have big venture funding like Napster did and I’m sure, if you talk to some of the Napster folks, they will regret some of the choices that were made. That’s a problem when you bring in these venture guys, they’re very bullheaded and take a hard line on things where I think solution to all of this would have been a little more understanding and compromise between all parties. Napster took a very hard legal edge to everything and that was unfortunate to see that play in the world’s view.

Aaron Dinin:

So, do you feel like online file sharing just got a bad rep? Like it could have been a much bigger opportunity for record labels, if they’d embraced it rather than try to litigate it out of existence?

Michael Merhej:

I just knew at that time, the future must have some world where any track you want to listen to is instantly available at anytime on any device that you want to. There were so many restrictions that were trying to be placed, like all the encryption garbage, things like this, just make it really restrictive and hard to apply to any device. I just wanted us to get to a place where I can listen to any track any time I want to and discover new content. It was my naive hope that we could figure out a way to work with the recording industry, that’s just a college student flying up to Washington, DC, actually legitimately trying to tell these guys what I know and actually try to help them and get them to help me.

Aaron Dinin:

That college student who wanted to work with the recording industry, his name was Michael Merhej. He was the founder of Audiogalaxy, one of the early web’s biggest and most popular file sharing websites. Even though he and his file sharing contemporaries got painted as villains by the recording industry, for stealing music, as you just heard, he wasn’t interested in stealing music. He just enjoyed music so much, he wanted access to more of it and the recording industry wasn’t making that easy, so, he took matters into his own hands, and by doing so, helped millions of people around the world accomplish the same goal. Are you ready to hear the story? Let’s get dialed in.

[INTRO]

Aaron Dinin:

Hi there and welcome to Web Masters. I’m your host, Aaron Dinin. I teach entrepreneurship at Duke University where I also study the history of internet businesses. This podcast is a combination of both those things, because you’ll hear me talking with some of the internet’s earliest and most impactful innovators and entrepreneurs. On this episode, we’re going to travel back to an interesting time in internet history, the golden age of online file sharing. Basically, people uploaded all the cool songs and movies and softwares they had to the internet and other people could just go and download it for free. Yeah, it was really that easy and as you can imagine, it came with a lot of moral, ethical and legal issues. The best known company for enabling file sharing at the time was Napster, you’ve probably heard of them, but another service came earlier and in some respects was actually bigger, at least from a breadth of content perspective. That service would ultimately become known as Audiogalaxy. We’re about to hear from its founder, Michael Merhej.

But first, we’re going to hear from this podcast’s sponsor. Web Masters wouldn’t exist without the generous support and partnership of our sponsor, Latonas. Latonas is a boutique mergers and acquisitions brokerage that specializes in the buying and selling of cash flow positive internet businesses and digital assets. Those are things like Shopify stores, Amazon FBAs, SaaS apps, content websites, and even domain portfolios. Basically, if it’s a business you’re making money with online, talk to the people at Latonas and they can probably help you sell it because that’s what they do. They’ve been doing it for a long time and they’re really good at it. Alternately, if you’re interested in buying a business, be sure to check out Latonas as well. They’re constantly posting new listings on their website at Latonas.com. That’s L-A-T-O-N-A-S.com.

This episode’s guest, Michael Merhej, has a habit that isn’t very unique in terms of the people we talk with here on the show. However, while most of the people I’ve spoken with describe this particular habit as a good thing, that’s not so much the case for Michael. Here, I’ll let him explain.

Michael Merhej:

I think part of my problem is I’ve always been a little bit too early on everything, but there’s a benefit to that too is that, it gives you a long lead time to explore the area without a lot of competition and attention. The downside is when you talk to people about what you’re innovating and what’s you’re working on, they think you’re either crazy or they have no idea what you’re talking about. They might not even understand the problem completely and of course, if they don’t understand the problem, they wouldn’t think of any solutions. I think this came most apparent to me after Audiogalaxy did FolderShare.

I would pitch this problem to people in 2000 saying, “Look, you work on multiple devices. Why can’t you just work on your documents on one device and then move to another device like your home computer versus your office computer, and not have to email files to yourself or use a USB drive? Just open the document on the computer and resume working where you left off, it’s so easy.” That blew people’s mind when I tried to explain that to them, They’re like, “I don’t get it. I just email the file to myself and resume working on it or pull out my USB stick and stick it in the computer.” Obviously, the solution is obvious to everybody today. Everybody gets it. But in 2000, I talked to all kinds of smart people, I even talked to venture capitalists and they thought I was crazy and just blew me away.

Aaron Dinin:

Wait, so you also created FolderShare, which was basically Dropbox, like five years before Dropbox and nobody got it? That must’ve been frustrating.

Michael Merhej:

It’s one of those things that also tests your patience and sometimes you just think you’re crazy. When everybody around you is telling you, “No.” And it doesn’t make sense what you’re saying, yet, you just don’t know when the future is, but you do know the future has to have these certain things happen. If you know you’re capable of creating that happen, it’s like, what do you have to lose? Besides your sanity, of course. I mean, I would never recommend anybody to be an entrepreneur or do a startup just because they think it’s cool or everybody else is doing it. It has to be an innate desire and a seasoned pain taker, at least I believe to be successful or have the determination to stick it out, to see that vision realized.

Aaron Dinin:

And Michael is definitely one of those people who is, as he described it, a seasoned pain taker, which is why he’s now a serial entrepreneur, but it was definitely an acquired skill for him because he never set out to build his own companies. That’s actually one of the most interesting parts about the Audiogalaxy story. Audiogalaxy wasn’t some me too copycat of Napster and dozens of other file sharing services that sprang up in the late 90s. Audiogalaxy actually began well before that, it was an FTP search engine for MP3s that Michael built during college to help him and other people find interesting music.

Michael Merhej:

I’m at University of Texas and one of the coolest innovations, this is outside of their [inaudible 00:08:32] is that ability to play music on your computer before MP3s, it was really, you could play MOD files, MIDI files, and then they were all fake, not real renditions of tracks that you may like. Then when APM came along … Actually even before APM, but the fact that, I remember that you using a 46 processor, you could dedicate the entire processing power of that in Windows to play a song file through your computer and to me, that was amazing and the fact that these files were only three or four megabytes versus you could obviously play a WAY file, the straight PCM format, but it would be like 65 megabytes, which is, at that time, a large file to handle or even deal with and it made very little sense. But having a three megabyte file that you could share with people and have them check out the song was really awesome. Being in college, college is all about music and seeing new bands, it was just a great way to experience music.

Aaron Dinin:

So, you were just a college kid who liked music, and it sounds like you just wanted more music. Was that the scenario that led to Audiogalaxy?

Michael Merhej:

And part of the thing too, is the music scene in the U.S. was very dictated by only certain tracks. Basically, it’s the top 40 that controlled everything. And if you wanted to go much deeper than that, you went to eccentric record stores and started guessing and paying for records that you’re not sure that if you really want the whole, I guess, dance EDM electronic music scene that was going in Europe. It was really hard to tap into that, or understand what was going on by listening to the radio. Having MP3s and being able to get those directly from Europe to actually hear the music that was interesting or totally different genres of music, or even music with different languages being played in all over the world, it was just fascinating, versus having to be forced to turn on the radio and hear the same tracks played over and over again. So, to me, it was just a broadening out of and understanding music around the world.

Aaron Dinin:

And how did that interest in finding more diverse music choices lead you to Audiogalaxy?

Michael Merhej:

There were just an environment of people sharing really cool tracks that interest them, to discover new bands and just new genres of music. People set up FTP sites, to share music with other people at the university and at other universities and so it was my idea as well. Well, it’s very hard to just go log in to FTP sites all the time and then have to browse each individual FTP site to find the music you want, so, this is not a revelation or anything, but let’s create a search engine for MP3 FTP sites so that you can just type in a genre or track you’re looking for and see if a FTP site has that, because a lot of times, if you know, one track that interests you and you find a FTP site, they’re going to have a bunch of more stuff that is very interesting to you because it’s the same association.

You’re actually going to discover stuff, browsing it, once you find the FTP site that has a track, that you’re leaning towards and so basically it’s a search engine, and this is, I thought, well, this is basically like web crawler, but it’s FTP crawler, specifically for music sites, and that’s where it first started out, is just building FTP sites, using university computer. University didn’t really care, that went on for several years, it kept on that going and seem to get pretty popular. Eventually it started taking up so much bandwidth on the physics servers at University of Texas that I decided to move it off and to do it myself commercially, and also be able to put some ads on because you can’t put ads on the university server. You can’t make money off things, so, or even pay for anything, so make commercial enterprise and just try to break even on having an NTP search engine. So, that’s the early beginnings of Audiogalaxy, it was just an FTP search engine.

Aaron Dinin:

Let me pause for a moment here to talk a little more about FTP. I’ve realized a lot of you listening will know what it is, but it’s becoming increasingly less common these days, at least for general use, so it seems worth a quick explanation. FTP stands for file transfer protocol. As the name implies it’s the protocol used for transferring computer files on and off of servers. Those files can be anything, video files, software files, documents, and of course music files that’s exactly what Michael was most interested in. Back at the time, people would upload all their music files to server, so other people could access them and download what they wanted. What kinds of people were doing that? Well, you can probably guess.

Michael Merhej:

Honestly, it was a lot of university students, those are the people who had the internet connections, the computers, the resources to do it because they thought it was cool. University is naturally a sharing collaborative environment and universities all across the U.S and overseas, Michigan, Cornell, I mean, all these places they would put MP3 sites on and it was great.

Aaron Dinin:

And it was pretty great for students, except there was one big usability issue. If it’s your buddy’s FTP site and you want to go grab something from her server, she can just tell you what’s on there and how to access it but what if the FTP server belongs to a stranger on the other side of the world, how will you know about the server? How will you search it? Enter Michael and his FTP search engine, and to be clear, it’s not like Michael’s was the first FTP search engine, that honor actually goes to Alan Emtage who, shameless plug, you can learn more about in Web Masters episode 21. Michael, however, built one of the first, if not the first FTP search engines to focus exclusively on MP3s.

Michael Merhej:

There were several FTP search engines and some of them did return MP3 results, but a lot of them didn’t, part of the thing is, a lot of these required either a log in or things like that so, we actually had people add these sites with the right log in password, things like that because they weren’t always… Some of them were anonymous, some of them had like ratios, you must upload one MP3 and you can download five this kind of thing.

Aaron Dinin:

So, it wasn’t a business, right? It doesn’t sound Like you set out to create a company.

Michael Merhej:

Right, I mean, this is the farthest thing in my mind, and obviously I put it on university servers that I had access to and I just wanted to have something out there for people to use that I thought was better. I mean, there were several FTP search engines, it’s not like I wanted to have the best one because I thought that what I could write would be better than anybody else and obviously became very popular so there must have been some merit to that, so yeah.

Aaron Dinin:

If it wasn’t an intentional business, how did it grow so quickly?

Michael Merhej:

Oh, it was word of mouth. There were IRC channels and people would talk about it, and it’s just over a period of time, right? It’s a small community, and the community grows. People who played an MP3 on the computer for the first time, they got very excited. You show anybody on their computer, “Hey, you can play this track.” Their eyes lit up. It wasn’t just playing from a CD, you can have access to music that you can not find anywhere and you can play it here. There were many people like me who just excited about this concept, wider availability of music and the ability to do all kinds of remixes and stuff. It’s just, there was never a period before where music was just so available in terms of the depth and the creativity.

Aaron Dinin:

This is interesting because I know file sharing gets a bad rep, it’s labeled as basically stealing but what I’m hearing you say is it was never about stealing music, it was purely about access to more options. Is that right?

Michael Merhej:

Exactly. It wasn’t about stealing, it was about availability, couple labels controlled a couple tracks and it was their mission to promote and sell these 40 albums or whatever it may be per year. There’s literally thousands of them out there and there’s tons of bands trying to break out and experience and the only way that they could quote unquote, ‘make it’ is to sell their soul to a major label.

To me personally, it was really about getting content in other countries. There were DJs in other countries, Germany, UK, that genre just did not exist here in the year 1998 and hearing that music was just fascinating to me because Europe is basically five years ahead in some genres of music. You just could not, no matter what you did, you could not get that, here. It was an accessibility problem and at the end the day, I don’t think paying for this stuff was ever an issue. I mean, today I currently pay for YouTube music, used to be Googled music and I have no problems paying for unlimited content of music. I want to have everything available, I don’t want other people telling me, unless I want them to tell me, what I should listen to.

Aaron Dinin:

And why do you think it was so hard to convey that message of access? Why was online file sharing so quickly labeled as stealing?

Michael Merhej:

The people with money and power and all that stuff? Obviously they frame the story to reflect their agenda and I get that makes sense and that’s fine, right? The goal actually specific with Audiogalaxy, the outcome I would have loved to see, because I think we could have advanced this 10 years, is people pay money for unlimited music, which is what we have now. I knew we would eventually get here cause we have to, I was just hoping it would have been 10 or 15 years before. I think there was a dark time after a lot of file sharing sites got shut down, where stuff wasn’t accessible and you’ve had the big players, Apple, Google, and Spotify to force a lot of these issues, copyright issues to mold, to what works for consumers. Copyright law is not written to be consumer friendly, it’s written as a control issue for the people who created it.

Aaron Dinin:

This is an example of Michael running into one of the most overlooked issues in the entrepreneurial process, which is the importance of considering negative impacts. Specifically the question I like asking entrepreneurs is, who’s going to be negatively impacted by what you’re building and how much power do they have? This line of questioning will help you identify the things that are most likely to cause friction and just how much friction to expect. For example, if you develop a cure for cancer, I think we can universally agree, that’d be great curing cancer will have an enormous negative impact on pharmaceutical companies that currently make billions of dollars with drugs that treat cancer, so it’s actually in those companys’ best interest to stop you, even though the thing they’re stopping you from doing is curing cancer and if you don’t believe me, well, something similar has actually happened before.

By the mid nineties drugs to treat the painful symptoms of peptic ulcers had become an $8 billion industry, but according to the pharmaceutical companies, there was still no cure. However, that wasn’t entirely true in the mid 80s, a full decade earlier and Australian physician and researcher named Barry Marshall had proven peptic ulcers were primarily caused by bacteria, which was something that could be treated with a cheap antibiotic. Did anyone listen? Nope. Because the pharmaceutical companies spent huge amounts of money, smearing Marshall and framing him as a lunatic. Well, that lunatic would eventually go on to win the Nobel prize for his work and the world has a much better treatment for peptic ulcers, thanks to him. But it took a lot longer than it should have the same as true for Michael, the recording industry spent enormous amounts of money, smearing file sharing, suing people and companies wherever they could and generally making file sharing seemed like the worst crime in history. But 20 years later, Michael’s vision is basically a reality and those companies mostly look like big money, grubbing jerks who were just trying to preserve their control.

Michael Merhej:

It’s the same thing, dub the Mickey Mouse Law, right? When they extended the copyright years for Mickey Mouse, because Disney has such controlled power. Stories like snow white, I believe, cannot be copyrighted, it says public domain. So, It’s really interesting where things are public domain or for the benefit of mankind versus things that are controlled by entities, it’s going to be interesting to see over the next 100, 200 years, how this actually evolves. Authors and composers who are long dead, there’s some phantom entity still controlling that and restricting access essentially because copyright is a restriction of access. We probably won’t be around to see what actually happens with some of the copyright law, things get extended and extended and extended. I think it’s a fascinating topic, I don’t have any answers, I just do know that there has to be some balance between the greater good and creativity and also the authors being rewarded for their fantastic contributions.

Aaron Dinin:

To be clear, I’m not anti copyright. I certainly believe businesses and creators should be able to protect themselves in their work and I’m pretty sure Michael believes the same thing. Instead, I’m offering a reminder that innovation isn’t always a voluntary process. Businesses can often be perfectly happy with the status quo so sometimes it takes people like Michael to drag them forward into innovating new models. So, intentionally or not, that’s exactly what Michael did, eventually his FTP search engine had grown so large that he started thinking about turning it into a business.

Michael Merhej:

Some freshly traded company on the NASDAQ that was rolling up a bunch of other music companies, and they offered a lot of money in their stock and some money in cash and that got my brain working. I went and flew up in New York, visited with them, really hated the strategy. I thought they were being very sneaky and sly and not really upfronts, but the thing it did do for me, it was like, “Wow, there’s some real value here. People actually care about this? This is not just a random side project. This can actually be something, we can make this bigger and really create something that people will find really useful, not just to the eclectic side thing or what I had going on.”

Aaron Dinin:

Is that what pushed you to spin it out into its own company?

Michael Merhej:

So, you know, explored 4 minute company, it was kind of funny. I, and this is what I caution any budding entrepreneur, I brought on these two people that were recommended to me, great consulting backgrounds and they had a great idea on how to take Audiogalaxy and turn it into something with a lot of value. And one of them had an MBA, supposedly great smart folks and one of the things for me is trust. They wanted a certain percent of the company, they want to take control of certain things and I’m like, “Okay, fine. We can do something.” But one of the things that happened, early learning experience, was they tried to manipulate me in terms of, they thought their value was more than I perceive their value and they started to change the terms of the original arrangement that we had and I got very mad by that and they basically threatened to quit completely and leave me on my own there and drive back to Houston and call it goods, if I didn’t agree to their terms. I said, “Okay, fine. I’ll see you guys later.”

I think halfway on the drive home, they called me back, they were basically just bluffing and I’m like, “Well, I wasn’t bluffing.” When you offer somebody something and they say, “No.” It doesn’t mean the offer is still on the table, they tried telling me the phone that they would accept the original offer. I said, “No, that offer is gone. You declined that offer and try to offer something else. I said, no and that’s where we’re at.” Those are the kind people I wouldn’t to deal with and I think it’s very important to pick the people, who you want to deal with as you’re starting a company.

Aaron Dinin:

So, you shot them down and then what, basically just moved forward on your own?

Michael Merhej:

Basically I was turning the FTP search engine into more of a commercial project and also we tried to get local bands, especially around Austin, try to give them more exposure in a magazine review format. I think that’s the first part, the second part and again, I think this is 98′. 99′, I think Napster, just started getting some traction. I thought it was absolutely amazing that people were willing because at the time people didn’t want to give something unless they got something, that’s kind of a ratio FTP site. What I thought was amazing with Napster, was Napster essentially allowed people to get stuff for free continuously. Everybody became their own FTP site when you connected to the Napster, and they essentially, if you wanted to file from them, you were able to grab it from them. That was a revelation to me that people willing really participate in that and like, this is awesome, we can do a much better job and that’s when we did our own file sharing service.

Aaron Dinin:

Let me make sure I have the timeline straight you started Audiogalaxy before Napster though it wasn’t called Audiogalaxy yet it was an FTP search engine. You spun that off, saw Napster getting popular with a slightly different version of file sharing and then evolved your product to match theirs. Is that about right?

Michael Merhej:

Yeah, Audiogalaxy launched before Napster, it was basically the search engine that I took from the computer lab and put it on commercial server and you start to build a business around that and it definitely got a lot of traction. The thing that we noticed with Napster is well, this is basically everybody becoming a FTP site. Napster’s able to greatly expand the amount of content because people who participate in Napster would give their content away for free and we’re like, “Well, I didn’t know, psychologically people are willing to do this. This is great. We think we do a much better job than what Napster is doing, so we have to work on our own custom solution.” Then Audiogalaxy became the file sharing service millions of people would use and essentially everybody became their own FTP site and you could search using the web, it’s like if I was going from the web and they would download to your, what we call the Audiogalaxy Satellite.

Aaron Dinin:

And when was this, 95′ 96′? Was that about when the FTP search engine launched?

Michael Merhej:

I want to say that was maybe 96′. It was quite soon, I think the name of the Borg search engine. Again, this is just a fun side project that I wanted to do, to just make sure that these sites were discoverable. This wasn’t a business, it was just… I maintained it over time, it went in and out of my personal attention sometimes I didn’t pay attention to it, sometimes I did. I mean, the whole MP3 stuff didn’t really catch on until… I was early, I mean, even with this, I was early. Computing processing advanced a little bit more, so, people’s entire computer resources were not consumed by playing a music file. And once I think things like when APM came out, that made it more popular and the word started to circulate, it was also with people having ethernet in their dorm rooms, where you could transfer three megabyte file, much easier. So, it was also technology catching up and accelerating the digital music revolution at this time. 96′ was still too early, but there was an underground or people who knew loved it and experimented with it.

Aaron Dinin:

When did it go from being called the Borg search engine to Audiogalaxy?

Michael Merhej:

It’s when I had to become a company and we had to get a URL instead of visiting some random log physics URL. It became an actual company, when I say company, this is just me and friend in the physics department, and some reviewers just working out of our home and not big funding or anything like that, so, it was just getting off the ground and driving more traffic and once we did our file sharing thing, I think that really accelerated our attention because that became very popular. I think it eventually become number two, number one, file sharing service. I mean, at any one time we had over a million people connected. The thing with Napster, is Napster segregated their clients, they could only have like a couple of 100,000 people if that per cluster, but we kept everything together and the reason why we did that is because it allowed you to get that really edge content, like the really edge mixed track that only a couple people in the world have access to, and not only that if they came back online, you could request it.

Michael Merhej:

So, if we’ve seen it before, you could have outstanding requests, if we ever saw that file again from anybody, it would be sent to you, so you could create almost like standing requests and the cool thing is, it could be another person who has it comes online, it gets sent to you, Audiogalaxy really became known for deep content, deep mixes, stuff you’ve never seen before. You could always get on Napster and get top 40 stuff, but that was never our goal. Our goal was for you to really discover, discover new genres, discover new music, discover foreign content. You could never find anywhere.

Aaron Dinin:

And, out of curiosity, just how big did Audiogalaxy get at its peak?

Michael Merhej:

I mean, we were always an underground site to some degree, we were just amazed it, I think at one point in 2000 we had over 500 servers and looking back on it, we were a top 10 internet property. There’s not many sites that had 500 servers in the year, 2000 and we bootstrapped the heck out of them all with our own stuff, fully custom. We just didn’t know any better, we just did it in a way that we could figure out to make it all work. It was cool to know that there was a stadium full of people, always on our site actively using it. I’m talking about like 80,000 people actively browsing our site at any one time, over a million people connected with our client and we would get the weirdest requests from people.

We had server problems, we start receiving faxes from random people of globe saying weird stuff, like “Fix your darn servers.” We had people try to come to our office. One of the weirdest things that probably for me are cool is, I was flying somewhere on an airplane and two seats back from me, I heard people talking about Audiogalaxy and how cool it was.And that was awesome. I also remember being in a couple of pop culture things, which is cool to see. We didn’t know we were getting into, we were just doing the best job that we could and just keeping our heads down focused on providing a service to people who that was valuable to them.

Aaron Dinin:

But, obviously it didn’t last. I mean, you would have gotten all the same kinds of legal pressure that caused Napster to shut down, right? So, how did it feel to be on the receiving end of all that legal stuff?

Michael Merhej:

Well, it was really depressing. I mean, I’m trying to do the right thing, at least what I thought was the right thing and try to make this work for everyone and these guys are accusing me at least publicly through other means or through attorney documents, accusing me of stuff that I firmly believe that wasn’t the intent that wasn’t what we’re doing and… It is what it is and eventually we got to a mutually agreeable arrangement, we shut it down and it is what it is.

Aaron Dinin:

Fair enough. Sounds like it’s in the distant past for you, which is totally understandable. Any regrets about the experience?

Michael Merhej:

I really wish, I don’t know if it’s possible, to do some deal with the labels. I think it would have been very beneficial for them too. It would have, I think, pushed us closer to what we have in 2020, but that we didn’t have for many years. I mean, even in 2010, it was still dismal, you couldn’t access a lot of things. Audiogalaxy we actually had people making their own music, who used Audiogalaxy, you would upload these crazy tracks where they would talk about their friends or whatever. And some of them were actually pretty good and they would get traction. People would discuss and talk about them, there was no way for that to previously happen, there was no way for people to create content, put it out there for the entire world to see, talk about it and exchange ideas.

Aaron Dinin:

In its own way, it sounds like Audiogalaxy was more than just a file sharing service. It was an early social network. Right?

Michael Merhej:

Right, I mean on Audiogalaxy, that’s one thing that people loved about it, is it had a community and people had a profile. You could see what their favorite genres were, what their favorite songs were. People could engage in discussions around a particular band, people could chat with one another, I mean, and that got millions of messages back and forth, send messages to people individually, people forums what we call, groups. We had tens of thousands of groups, where people would talk about things, like IRC style, but on a webpage and they could send a file to the group. “Hey, check out this track.” So, yeah, it actually was an early social network focused around music.

Aaron Dinin:

An early social network, focused around music. I don’t know about you, but I like that description a lot better than calling it an illegal file sharing website, which of course is just what the recording industry convinced people to call Audiogalaxy and so many other sites like it. And to be fair, some of them probably were just there for people to steal content. However, after hearing Michael’s story, I think describing Audiogalaxy as an early social network, focused around music is a much more accurate description of what he built and what he believed in. I hope you agree, and I hope you enjoyed this episode of Web Masters. If you did, I also hope you’ll take a moment to share it with other people, nothing illegal about that kind of sharing, I promise. Also be sure you’re subscribed so you can get the next episode as soon as it’s released.

I want to thank Michael Merhej for speaking with me and sharing the story of Audiogalaxy worth noting Audiogalaxy had a couple other incarnations after its file sharing days before ultimately getting acquired by of all places Dropbox, which as mentioned earlier in the episode was a concept Michael built an entire company around, years before anyone understood what cloud file storage really meant. So, that’s interesting.

And hey, speaking of interesting, another quick thanks to our sponsor Latonas for supporting this podcast, if you’re considering buying or selling an internet business, be sure to check out, Latonas.com. Also, thanks to our sound engineer, Ryan Higgs, for his work, putting together this episode. If you have thoughts, feedback, comments, or concerns about anything you’ve heard, find us on Twitter. We’re @WebMastersPod, I’m on Twitter too @AaronDinin. That’s A-A-R-O-N D-I-N-I-N. I also write lots of articles about startups, entrepreneurship, innovation, and internet businesses over on medium.com. Search for my name there you’ll have no problem finding everything I’ve written, there’s a lot and Hey, there’s more to come. Just like there’s more to come here on Web Masters. So, stay tuned until then, it’s time for me to sign off.

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