In 1999, at just 19 years old, computer programmer and entrepreneur Shawn Fanning changed the digital landscape forever. He developed Napster, the peer-to-peer file sharing platform that ‘nearly killed the music industry’ and launched the career of collaborator and former Facebook President Sean Parker.
Napster has since merged with music player Rhapsody, and multi-millionaire Fanning has spent the 21st century backing numerous tech startups with varying degrees of success. Rupture, a social networking service for gamers, was acquired by Electronic Arts for $30m; while SNOCAP, a system for digital rights registration that received the support of Universal Music, EMI, Warner Music Group and SonyBMG Music Entertainment, eventually crashed through worker layoffs and was sold via a fire sale.
Fanning’s latest project is Helium, promising cheap and affordable ‘LongFi’ internet. The company’s peer-to-peer internet hubs, functioning as a sort of decentralised network, promise to offer internet at 200 times the range of normal routers, yet for 0.1% of the price of a cellular modem.
There are clear questions about whether the vision is achievable or affordable, but the company has received more than $51m in backing in recent years — suggesting companies and investors alike believe in Fanning’s enduring star power.Tags: data sharing, peer-to-peer