While this kind of activity is necessarily ‘local’, power users over the years have turned to systems that enable them to download and share potentially huge quantities of data.
Essentially computer servers running torrent client software in remote locations, these so-called ‘seedboxes’ became a must-have for anyone looking to stand out in the torrent world as a sharing sensation.
While widespread, companies selling access to seedboxes haven’t really generated much noise publicly over the years. However, this week an announcement from one of the longer-standing companies caught our attention. After being founded eight years ago, popular provider SeedStuff.ca has decided to exit the seedbox business.
“We originally opened in 2010, however we have seen an ever changing climate in the industry and as new technologies emerge and people shift to more conventional means of file sharing our services have seen a steady decline over the past few years,” the company said in a statement published on its website.
“At this time, it simply is no longer viable to continue offering the services we do.”
Considering BitTorrent itself made its mark as a disruptive technology, it’s interesting that a company like SeedStuff would have its business disrupted by other file-sharing methods. So, we asked the provider a little more about its history and its ultimate decision to close down.
“We started from the backroom IRC channels on 56k connections, so torrents have always been a blessing,” a spokesperson said.
“Between 2005 and 2010, I think the rise of ‘Private’ trackers really started to make the scene shine. You were able to find and connect with the content you wanted as well as the communities of people who shared interests as well.
“The private trackers gamified seeding and rewarded their best members, this is what really paved the way for seedboxes. The users felt a need to compete and often did not have access to the means to do so, but could contract these machines out to help them succeed. The demand for seedboxes started in about 2010, which I think you will see coincided with a huge spike of private tracker activity.”
SeedStuff says its initial aim was to improve user experience by not following the decision by many existing providers to “stuff as many users as possible” into each server. Restricting each unit to a maximum of four users and accepting just a small profit on each, the service grew while gaining support from customers.
“At our peak, we serviced over 4000 customers per month. Our total email database was well over 10,000 customer accounts. We did not monitor bandwidth or user activities as we felt this to be intrusive. We only dealt with server providers who offered unlimited bandwidth so that we were able to allow for the best user experience without limits,” the company explains.
But after several years of growth, SeedStuff noticed a change. In addition to suffering a painful database crash caused by a host and a failed backup regime, in 2015 the company observed a shift in user patterns.
“We noticed around this time that streaming services had started to become mainstream in almost every home and people were simply not using our services anymore. The main cancellation reason for the last three years has been ‘Not needed anymore’,” SeedStuff notes.
“I think torrenting developed for many reasons including ease of use, availability and cost to access media. Many of these issues have been improved by current systems so there is no need for consumers to use torrents for half their content, but we aren’t there yet and the industry seems to be dialing it back again.”
SeedStuff believes that while there will be a steady decline in torrent usage, the protocol will remain relevant for a long time to come. It could even enjoy a resurgence if distribution companies restrict availability or require multiple accounts to access all content.
“If a customer needs dedicated Netflix, HBO, CBS and Hulu accounts to access the shows they want, they might see these costs as too much compared to a decent torrenting connection,” the company says.
Of course, market changes can always have an effect on a company’s direction but SeedStuff says that in addition to tackling a myriad of technical issues, in the end there were also problems with team members migrating to other areas.
“Some of our team also moved on to new projects and started new companies which are now more exciting to them. Everything compounded and eventually lead us to split and go our separate ways. We just wanted to thank everyone who remained a customer through the years and are sorry we had to shut down,” the company concludes.
While there are plenty of other seedbox providers around, it seems fairly clear that things aren’t what they used to be, with streaming and other technologies all helping to disrupt the market. SeedStuff points towards IPFS as yet another potential torrent disrupter of the future. Time will tell.