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
[email protected] 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
“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.”