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Guba Gives Usenet a Modern Shot

Über-geeky Usenet has a modern face, thanks to Guba.

On Wednesday, seven-year-old Guba announced enhancements to its Usenet search service that lets users find multimedia content disguised as text files.

Usenet is a system of online bulletin boards that predates the Web. Messages are posted as ASCII text files; however, software, images, audio and video can be translated into binary files and posted. According to Wikipedia, e-mail lists and blog comments have superseded Usenet for discussion, and 92 percent of Usenet content is now binary files.

Because they're so big, binary files are divided into several messages for Usenet posting. Before an image or video posted as a binary can be viewed, it needs to be downloaded, reassembled and converted by desktop software. Guba eliminates these steps by converting all files to Macromedia's Flash format.

"Essentially, Guba is an interface to Usenet," said Bart Myers, Guba's vice president of operations. "Usenet is made up of thousands of servers around the world that peer. We're one of them, and we put an extra lens on top of it. We do the hard work and more for the end user."

Guba charges $14.95 for unlimited use. Myers said the company has tens of thousands of paying customers and serves around 1.5 million unique visitors per week.

The company plans to include transcoding for Apple's Video iPod by the end of November. Subscribers will be able to download and transfer files to their iPods, which can also be plugged into a television for big-screen viewing.

Usenet discussions may have dried up, but the service bustles with uploads of images and video. Myers said Guba typically has around 1.5 million images and videos in its index, representing terabytes of new content that's constantly changing. The total quantity of posts requires more than 400 terabytes of storage.

Guba crawls Usenet, identifying binary files, matching them up, eliminating duplication and discarding Trojans and viruses. It builds its index using metadata associated with the files.

"The advantage of Usenet is that there's more relevant metadata, because a file is posted to a specific group," Myers pointed out, and there's also a subject line that often gives more information. Guba is built on open source search technology; proprietary enhancements include the technology that converts video on the fly for viewing in the Flash format.

While Usenet discussion groups are indexed by Google and available for search via Google Groups, none of the major search engines index Usenet's binary files, Myers said.

Usenet Binaries is another online service for finding, viewing and downloading multimedia files from Usenet. Usenet Binaries charges $9.95 a month, but it doesn't solve the format problem for members. Instead, it gives users a laundry list of codecs to install.

Guba provides previews of video files and detailed information on the content, and it offers related files that might be of interest.

Myers said that approximately 60 percent of Usenet multimedia is user-generated content that doesn't violate copyrights, although a demonstration featured clips from movies and television.

The system automatically removes files protected by digital rights management software, and Myers said Guba will immediately respond to requests to remove content from the index. The company has proprietary technology that will block such content from reappearing, even if it's been modified.

The company hopes to capitalize on the interest in video search by forming relationships with content owners. "Our goal is to work with copyright holders, to create a relationship where they can get rewarded for their content," Myers said.

He pointed out that Guba can help copyright owners understand the worth of their content stores.

"We can provide information to content owners on the popularity of their content. They may find out that a piece of content has value because people are paying Guba to find it."

Jupiter Research analyst Gary Stein said the $14.95 per month subscription fee could limit Guba's growth.

"There are so many ways to search for video," Stein said. "How many would you need, and how many would you pay for? If the content is unique, that could be a good pull." (Jupiter Research and internetnews.com are owned by the same corporation.)

Guba might be out to lure a buyer, Stein added. Likely buyers would either have lots of content to distribute or a video search service that could use the addition of Guba's technology.