Private BitTorrent Trackers Commit Suicide With Rising Costs

Every week, more and more BitTorrent trackers come online, the vast majority being so-called private trackers where an invite is required to gain access. However, around 50% of these aren't making it to their first birthday, and many of them are causing their own death. The culprit? Rising costs.

Private BitTorrent trackers are usually much smaller than public trackers. More commonly ranging from 1,000 to 10,000 members (but some with many tens of thousands), these sites are often accessible by invite only, meaning that prospective users need to have direct contact with someone who is already a member.

Private sites commonly operate a ratio-based system where users are expected to upload around the same amount of data as they download, to ensure that the tracker’s ‘economy’ stays healthy. Some sites experiment with different methods of achieving the same ends, but whatever the technique the result is often more users ‘seeding’ than can be commonly found on similar torrents on public trackers, resulting in higher speeds and shorter download times.

For many in the BitTorrent community, private sites are where the real action can be found, but they also face some serious problems of their own. FileShareFreak has recently come up with a list of more than 300 private trackers launched in 2009 – of these only 179 remain online today. So what is causing the death of these sites before they even reach infancy?

In many cases sites are started by people who have no idea of the scale of the task that lies ahead of them and simply give up. Some sites are started by people who break off from other trackers after a dispute and believe they can do better and find out they can’t. While some thrive, others simply can’t carve themselves an audience or a big enough niche to satisfy their world-beating ambitions, while being hamstrung by their own invitation policy in an attempt to stay attractively exclusive.

Increasingly, however, more and more sites are simply running out of money, which is a fairly curious situation. After all, wasn’t BitTorrent created to make it really cheap to shift data around?

In themselves, the average private tracker and forum don’t cost that much to run, with many decent sized sites managing to operate for less than $150 each month – an amount easily covered by a generous sysop and a handful of small donations. But in recent years many private trackers have become very competitive – particularly with each other – as they literally race to bring content to their sites as quickly as possible and offering their demanding users the fastest download speeds.

What they are trying to achieve are great ‘pre-times.’ ‘Pre-time’ is a term used to describe how long it takes for a private tracker to make available a Scene release after it has been released (pre’d) on Scene topsites. The shorter the pre-time, the bigger the bragging rights, with the ultimate aim of the site winning the ‘race.’

Participating in these ‘races’ costs a lot of money, as the roles traditionally fulfilled by users (providing content and bandwidth) are increasingly taken on by the site itself. For many, this is becoming a crippling burden. So how much does this all cost?

Thanks to a smallish private site (6,000 users) known as StN (StoreTheNet) which chose to make its bills public as it tried and failed to justify turning their previously free site to a subscription model, we have an idea. (Please note: All the following information is already in the public domain, many private sites make no secret that they engage in this activity and StN will shutdown tomorrow.)

Around $200 per month goes to pay for site and IRC hosting and additional features to increase site security. For a ‘traditional’ torrent site setup (users provide all content and content bandwidth), that’s where the costs would end.

But of course, since this site and many others feel they have to become involved in ‘racing’ content to their site and providing ultimate download speeds, from here the costs start to skyrocket.

Around $330 is being paid every month to operators of so-called ‘topsites’ where the latest releases are ‘raced’ from, and while users of the site do contribute bandwidth via their normal sharing, these releases are initially seeded directly to the members via an unmetered bandwidth seedbox which StN says is approx $630 per month.

All these bills add up to approaching $1,200 in costs every month for what is essentially a pretty small site, so what’s the solution to bring costs down and avoid the death of yet more trackers during their first few months?

Well, first of all, many sites can achieve this amount through voluntary member donations, but a lot of private site members are also members of other trackers and they can’t possibly donate to them all. So inevitably, some are favored and others aren’t.

Another option for struggling sites (and many private site users will be stamping their feet with reddened faces at the mere suggestion) is to get out of racing altogether, instead letting users bring content and allowing BitTorrent and its users to propagate it naturally with their own home bandwidth and if they’re lucky, their own seedboxes. This will be much slower admittedly, but probably preferable to a site closing altogether. It also drastically reduces the security risk for the site itself.

Something that proves very successful for many sites is to find a niche. While all the latest movies may be a major attraction, they are also what cause the biggest burdens on a site in a myriad different ways. Niche material sites usually have great communities, great speeds and usually fly easily under the radar. Expect to see many more of these in the future.

There are hundreds of private sites out there that don’t operate in the fashion outlined above and don’t have the accompanying financial burdens, yet still achieve good times and speeds. Time will tell if the craze of the ‘race’ dies down in favor of lower running costs, or if the need for Blu-ray rips at lightning speeds prove simply too irresistible.

If the latter is true, in the end someone is going to have to pay for it.

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