In an effort to relieve some of the stress on the College’s Internet connection, Williams Students Online (WSO) recently unveiled Phynd (http://phynd.williams.edu), a search engine that allows on-campus users access to files shared by other students.
Primarily, students have been using Phynd for downloading mp3 and mpeg files â€“ a process made much faster because all users are on the same network. Downloads from Phynd are accomplished in seconds, whereas downloading the same files from file-sharing programs such as Kazaa or WinMX may take hours, both consuming a large portion of the bandwidth and slowing the entire network.
Phynd, according to its creator Brenden Conte at http://phynd.net, is a “generic search engine tool.” The College is one of many schools currently using the Phynd technology â€“ the University of Connecticut, University of Maryland and RPI all boast Phynd servers.
“What Phynd actually does is spider throughout the net and catalog all non-passworded shares into a database,” according to Phynd.net. “The Phynd server merely provides a searchable index of shared files on your network, much like Google and other popular search engines provide a searchable index of web pages.”
Toph Cyll ’04, who is most responsible for developing Phynd on campus, clarified: “Phynd searches the files that Williams students make available using Windows File Sharing. All these files are accessible without Phynd; Phynd just makes locating them a little bit easier and allows non-Windows computers to retrieve the files as well.”
Users are encouraged, but not required, to permit access to files on their hard drives to the rest of the network. Choosing what files will be shared is entirely under the jurisdiction of the user â€“ a liberty which allows Phynd to skirt legal problems by placing the responsibility of sharing only legal and licensed material on the individual user.
However, in the wake of numerous lawsuits filed by giants in the entertainment industry against programs that perform similar functions, the legal implications for users of Phynd remain uncertain. To many major labels such as Sony Music Entertainment, Interscope Records and Warner Brothers, mp3s of many popular songs are considered pirated copies of copyrighted material, making the distribution of them illegal and those who distribute them liable.
Yet the creators of Phynd said they are unconcerned about the possible repercussions.
According to Conte, Phynd allows users to search for all types of files, ranging from documents to digital pictures to music and movies. It seeks to avoid legal problems by maintaining that its intended use encompasses the sharing of non-copyrighted material.
WSO and Cyll played the largest part in bringing the Phynd technology to campus by installing the search engine on the WSO server. Cyll said “every file downloaded from the campus network via Phynd instead of from the Internet frees a little more of the school’s bandwidth for other uses.”
WSO has received overwhelmingly positive feedback about the site. “Everyone seems to be using Phynd these days,” Cyll said.
The College was not involved in Phynd’s development, but is aware of its uses and possible consequences. “Williams students, faculty and staff are legally responsible as individuals if they break the law,” said Dinny Taylor, chief technology officer at the Office for Information Technology (OIT).
“They need to understand that if they share or distribute copyrighted material, they are breaking the law and they are liable.”
However, Taylor maintained that the College is not out to expose students for sharing music. “OIT respects people’s privacy and does not police use of the network. We shape and manage bandwidth to maximize availability for academic use, but we don’t delve into the contents of the high bandwidth applications like file sharing,” Taylor said.
The creators of Phynd second Taylor’s opinion. Phynd, unlike Napster, is not software and can be used to share research, documents and other educational materials.
“[Phynd] does not only catalog mp3 files, but can also catalog other files or documents that can be used in academic research, or personal knowledge,” Phynd.net said.
Regardless of the threat of discovery, many students are praising Phynd for its combined speed, efficient searching functions and wealth of shared files.
“It is a great tool for the students on campus to use,” said Chin Ho ’04, College Council (CC) secretary.
Ho has been promoting Phynd in his weekly CC minutes, urging those registering complaints about the sluggish network to download exclusively from Phynd.