In 2003 the ‘world wide web’ was an entirely different place than it is today.
This was especially true for streaming video. YouTube had yet to be invented, while Netflix only sent out films via the postal service.
It was at this time that a group of New Zealand friends was shooting a fan film of The Matrix, appropriately titled “The Fanimatrix.” With a limited budget of just $800, of which nearly half went into a leather jacket, they managed to complete the project in nine days.
There was a problem though. As video streaming services were still non-existent, distribution was a challenge. The makers managed to reduce the filesize down to 150MB, but even that was too expensive.
TorrentFreak spoke to the film’s ‘IT-guy’ Sebastian Kai Frost, who also had a bit part in front of the camera, in addition to being a wire-work counterweight, gopher, and light holder. According to Frost, regular centralized hosting was not an option.
“In New Zealand this would have resulted in a completely unaffordable amount of bandwidth to be used sharing the file via traditional HTTP or FTP methods. Especially given that the entire bandwidth in and out of the country at the time was less than a modern WiFi link,” Frost tells TorrentFreak.
With no budget left they had to find something cheap, or free. Frost, who was working as a network administrator at the time, went looking for a solution and stumbled upon a new technology that could help. Something called “BitTorrent.”
“It looked promising because it scaled such that the more popular the file became, the more the bandwidth load was shared. It seemed like the perfect solution,” Frost says, looking back.
After convincing the crew that BitTorrent was the right choice, Frost created a torrent on September 28, 2003. He also compiled a tracker on his own Linux box and made sure everything was running correctly.
That was fifteen years ago. Today, this torrent is still up and running with a handful of seeders. As far as we know, it’s the oldest active torrent on the Internet. A real piece of history.
In a way, Fanimatrix became one of the first showcases of what BitTorrent can do.
Sure, at the time people were already sharing movies and TV-shows on sites such as Suprnova.org, Donkax.com, Bytemonsoon.com, and Torrentse.cx, but that was mostly pirated stuff. For the Fanimatrix, BitTorrent was a necessity.
“It turns out that using BitTorrent was a really really good idea because the file was downloaded over tens of thousands of times in the first week and then REALLY took off based off feature news articles on both New Zealand and American TV news,” Frost recalls.
In a New Zealand Herald report from 2003, the film’s director Rajneel Singh noted that the torrent had been downloaded 70,000 times is just one week. An impressive statistic, even by today’s standards.
BitTorrent was not only able to handle all the downloads, but it was also a serious cost saver. The film crew did some back-of-the-napkin calculations at the time which showed that BitTorrent saved them roughly $550,000 in bandwidth bills during the first month alone.
Frost and the team were blown away by the experience. And while the film is dated by today’s special effect standards, it’s good to see that people are still interested. Whatever their reason may be.
“The fact that people still seed it after all these years is a good feeling. Though I suspect a lot of people are on board now because they want to be part of keeping the world’s oldest active torrent going. Which is in itself pretty cool,” Frost says.
Frost plans to keep a restored version of the original site and the torrent up and running during the decade to come. It’s a piece of Internet history, after all.
“At the time we had no idea how popular this ‘BitTorrent’ thing would become, but being there at the beginning, and having it still operating and seeding even now is a pretty awesome thing.
“I intend to keep it going as long as I have a seed left to give,” Frost concludes.
Note: If anybody knows of any torrents that beat this record, feel free to let us know.