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Gnutella Developer Gene Kan Dies

Gnutella developer and peer-to-peer (P2P) pioneer Gene Kan passed away June 29 from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. He was 25 years old.

Kan, who had been struggling for some time with depression, was best known for his early work on Gnutella, an Internet file-swapping technology that does not rely on a central server like Napster. The P2P technology forms the basis of post-Napster file-sharing services, including FreeNet and iMesh.

In March 2000, Justin Frankel and Tom Pepper began Gnutella at Nullsoft, which was owned by AOL. Although AOL quickly disowned the project, but copies of Gnutella's the open-source program were already downloaded, allowing many mutations to crop up.

Kan was among the first to release a version of Gnutella, and quickly became a spokesman of the Gnutella movement, setting up a portal for developers to exchange ideas for improving the technology.

He raised Gnutella's profile with interviews about the power and potential of P2P to mainstream media, such as National Public Radio, The Atlantic Monthly, and The NewsHour. Kan even testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee's June 2000 hearings on file-swapping services.

Along with friends Yaroslav Faybishenko and Cody Miller, Kan co-founded InfraSeach to integrate the Gnutella technology into a search engine. Instead of a static search engine, InfraSearch would use P2P technology to bring about a more dynamic search engine.

In April 2000, InfraSearch caught the attention of Netscape cofounder Marc Andreessen by sending him a link to the search engine. Andreessen was sufficiently impressed to invest in the company, along with a group of Excite@Home executives and Silicon Valley VC firm Angel Investors, to the tune of $5 million.

But the dizzying days of the Internet boom soon fizzled, making an IPO for InfraSearch impossible. In March 2001, Sun Microsystems bought the company in an all-stock deal. Sun merged InfraSearch's technology with its Project Juxtapose, a Bill Joy effort devoted to distributed-computing research.

In an online tribute, InfraSearch co-founder and friend Faybishenko described Kan as "the guy I could call when I was having trouble changing a flat tire."

"He was someone who could that would check his character judgments with me and someone who would start whispering to me a hilarious idea in the middle of a meeting," Faybishenko remembered. "In this land of minute friendships started and 'events' and held up by lunch meetings, I've never experienced two emotions that are equally impossible to describe: happiness to have called him my friend and the overwhelming, all-devouring sense of loss."