What Made OiNK So Special?

[Updated 10/31/07, see bottom of post]

I had a professor ask me for more information on what made OiNK special and what it was all about. I assembled the following information for him:

Why Oink Was Special

  • The community was very tightly controlled:
    • Only albums that had a certain level of audio quality (192kbps+) were allowed to be uploaded. Albums had to fit a stringent set of criteria such as being original rips from real CDs, and not “transcodes.” A transcode is a song that has been ripped to mp3, decoded back to wav, and then re-encoded to an mp3. This was despite the fact that many feel double compression is not noticeable to the ear.
    • All torrents had to fulfill certain basic requirements such as a complete tracklisting. A basic description, accurate meta data, cover art scans and a playlist file were highly encouraged and more often than not taken care of by the uploader.
  • The community was self-policing and highly active. Torrents of albums were uploaded weeks sometimes months in advance of their official date. High profile albums were combed over very quickly and rejected if either they appeared to be transcodes or had been doctored in any way.
  • It was membership by invitation only, yet had over 150,000 active users. People would lose their accounts for not maintaining a certain upload/download ratio or for not logging in for multiple weeks at a time. Second chances were not given. Donations were accepted but not required.
  • OiNK featured a carefully constructed album request and fulfillment system that allowed members to vote for their most desired albums released or not. When a request was filled, everyone who had voted for it received notification that it was available for download.
  • When Radiohead finally released In Rainbows, it did so 160kbps which did not meet the existing standard of 192kbps. OiNK community members refused to allow a torrent to be uploaded. The hype for this album was beyond anything the web has seen before yet the site stood by its principles and exercised an astounding level of self-control. Honor among thieves.
  • Most importantly, people on there were music fanatics. There was constant demand for albums to be posted in “lossless” audio quality and a thriving discussion forum. Unknown bands repeatedly made it into the daily Top 10 of the past day getting hundreds of downloads before dropping out, while big releases would get tens of thousands of downloads and sit in the popular charts for weeks or months. Just about any album you wanted could be downloaded within a few minutes over broadband and was virtually guaranteed to be perfectly packaged and in astounding quality.

The administrator of the site had his home raided at the same time as the Dutch ISP where the OiNK server was located one week ago today. Here is the Reuters story on the closure .

It is hard to say how this has significantly changed how people listen to music. Without question there are tens of thousands of people scattered across the world who saw and took part in what it really meant to share a music experience today. It made the original Napster look like a playground and illustrated that despite iTunes’ successful commercial model it is largely out of touch with how people really want to experience music today.

Update 10/31/07: An incredible interview with Trent Reznor and Saul Williams went up on New York Magazine yesterday. In it Trent discusses OiNK and compares it to iTunes. I also discovered Saul Williams thanks to this interview. Check this quote from Trent out:

“If OiNK cost anything, I would certainly have paid, but there isn’t the equivalent of that in the retail space right now. iTunes kind of feels like Sam Goody to me. I don’t feel cool when I go there. I’m tired of seeing John Mayer’s face pop up. I feel like I’m being hustled when I visit there, and I don’t think their product is that great. DRM, low bit rate, etc.

Amazon has potential, but none of them get around the issue of pre-release leaks. And that’s what’s such a difficult puzzle at the moment. If your favorite band in the world has a leaked record out, do you listen to it or do you not listen to it? People on those boards, they’re grateful for the person that uploaded it — they’re the hero. They’re not stealing it because they’re going to make money off of it; they’re stealing it because they love the band.”

YES! This is a musician who gets it. The only issue I have with his comments are suggesting that Amazon has potential. If Amazon wants to be a player in the music scene, having DRM free deliverables and a great check out is not enough. It has to look cool. Its music sales pages need to be distinctive to the artist and offer an experience that is not the same as buying calculators from their site.

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