File-sharing for the faint-of-l33t
December 23, 2006 6:49 AM   Subscribe

How can I simplify using Bittorrent for my technically-challenged mom?

I've been saddled with the task of teaching my mom how to download music from the Internet. She uses XP and can find her way around web/MSN/email/word processing, but she knows everything by rote and can't troubleshoot any minor problems. She doesn't entirely understand the Windows filesystem and often has no idea where she's saved something.

The plan is to teach her how to use some Bittorrent client, but there are a couple things that complicate the workflow. First, she never remembers who sings what. Secondly, her Google-fu is nonexistent -- she refuses to use Google search techniques properly (she types everything in as a question Ask Jeeves-style). So, I need to teach her how to search for song lyrics effectively using quotes and boolean operators, then how to search for torrents online and assess whether or not they're useless. This might be an issue because she'll likely wig out if she's has to routinely do something on the computer that requires more than a few steps.

So, what do I do? Is there some BT client for Windows that has torrent search capabilities that don't redirect to a website (I'm a Linux girl, I wouldn't know)? Should I roll together a web app that that'll turn her lyrics into a a decent query string, find a song/album based on them and then automatically search for torrents for her? Or do I tell her to stick to the iTunes store?
posted by thisjax to Computers & Internet (16 answers total)

This post was deleted for the following reason: this is a little over the line for AskMe. See the MetaTalk thread for more.

Sounds like she'd be better off with a one-stop-shop like iTunes. I mean...if she can't use Google correctly, I seriously doubt she's going to be able to grok the whole torrent "experience".
Just my 2-cents, of course.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:14 AM on December 23, 2006

Does it have to be BitTorrent? Because the Limewire Gnutella client is pretty easy to drive.
posted by flabdablet at 7:28 AM on December 23, 2006

For lyric searches on Google, I always just type "lyric" and then the lyric string in quotes. That gets me the artist's name most of the time. She doesn't really need more than that unless she's looking for obscure songs or highly covered songs.

I also use two torrent tool bar plug-ins for Firefox - Torrent Search and Torrent Finder. Torrent Search lets me type in a search string (your mother could just type in the artist name here) and choose from a list of torrent sites to search. Or just limit her to She'll probably find everything she wants there.

Torrent Finder automatically searches several sites and displays each sites results in a tab.

Teaching her how to figure out which torrents are worth downloading is a whole 'nother issue.
posted by rsclark at 7:28 AM on December 23, 2006 [1 favorite]

I was trying to figure out something similar for my mom. There are a few apps in beta for Mac like bitcommet and xtrorrent that have a search pane that let users search for torrents within the interface. You find something you like, click on it and it starts downloading the torrent. One stop shopping. Doesn't help our moms since they are mac only.

Even if she had a mac, I think these apps might be a little overwhelming and frustrating -- if she finds something that isn't seeded will she really want to wait infinity days for the file to download.

It would also make holidays uncomfortable if the RIAA came down on my mom for being a "pirate". So what I did was buy her a gift certificate from iTunes and she can get my brother so show her where the free stuff is.
posted by birdherder at 7:40 AM on December 23, 2006

Are torrents the best solution here?

While not nearly as effective as straight peer to peer or torrents, you might have her try g2p - which a lot of folks have had pretty painless success with. Though I'm too lazy to dig up the thread, it was originally brought to my attention out on the Blue.

Just tell your mom to punch in the artist or song title exactly into the search bar. Then the page will try and wring the mp3 out of Google. Then she just needs to keep clicking through the results until what she's after turns up. Not as buttery smooth as itunes, but a bit simpler than the Java and port-forwarding hullaballoo that is torrents.
posted by EatTheWeek at 7:56 AM on December 23, 2006 [1 favorite]

After I posted my earlier answer, I went off and played with uTorrent, my client of choice.

There is a search box in the upper left corner. I typed an artist name and it directs me to mininova with a list of torrents. You can pick the torrent site you want for default.

I'm not sure why you don't want to redirect to a web page. The work flow looks pretty simple.

1. Find artist name in google with "lyrics" search.
2. Open uTorrent and type artist name in search box.
3. Look at search results on mininova - pick album that has highest number (or any number) in the seeds column.
4. Click on green download graphic.
5. Wait for utorrent to download the file.

BTW, I've told utorrent not to prompt me when I download a torrent.

I can see several problems though that might make it worth just using iTunes. Many albums come in .RAR format. Is she going to be able to unzip them? Will she take the time to remove old torrents from the client? Will she be able to get the downloaded files into her mp3 client of choice?
posted by rsclark at 7:59 AM on December 23, 2006

Your mom is okay with downloading music illegally, right? With her level of computer knowledge, she probably has no idea that what you're suggested could get her sued by the RIAA (torrents provide no security, as anyone downloading can see everyone else's IP).
posted by gramcracker at 8:18 AM on December 23, 2006

Install her the Opera Browser. It has integrated torrent support. All torrent downloads show up as normal transfers.
posted by donut at 8:26 AM on December 23, 2006

Nthing the opinion that this seems like a really, really bad idea. Your mom has no idea what she's doing - legally or technically. If she knew, she'd likely be very upset about it. Just set her up with iTunes.
posted by dmd at 8:33 AM on December 23, 2006

Remember, most non-technically-inclined people think of "the internet" as one big computer in the sky. No amount of you explaining the difference between bittorrent and iTunes and web sites will change that perception - so it's really not ethical for you to have her doing something illegal when she doesn't even know what it is she's doing.
posted by dmd at 8:35 AM on December 23, 2006

Bit Che is the best search engine I've found for torrents, and it's NOT web based. But it is free.
posted by blue_beetle at 9:36 AM on December 23, 2006

If you go for stores, by the way, it doesn't have to be itunes - there are a lot of non-DRM music stores out there. Whether their selections are large enough depends on what you're looking for. emusic is nice.

For older songs that are out of copyright, there are a lot of free sources available. The internet archive is a decent starting point.
posted by lullabyofbirdland at 9:43 AM on December 23, 2006

I don't use it, but from everything I know about it, it sounds like Real's Rhapsody service might be for your Mom. It seems to have a big selection, I think its all you can eat, and while it seems like more of a "rental" than "ownership" service, that seems to square with the way you describe your Mom's use.

Most of all, its a consumer oriented service. I think any attempts to turn your mom in to a geek behind her back are going to fail with the prospect of sour dispositions all around.
posted by hwestiii at 9:56 AM on December 23, 2006

Seconding Rhapsody. It's unbelievably useful, and at $10 a month or $99 per year, it's a very good value.
posted by Optamystic at 10:20 AM on December 23, 2006

posted by mkultra at 11:05 AM on December 23, 2006

A pre-paid year to Yahoo! Music Unlimited is $60 or $5 a month. You can also get an extra year for free if you pay with your Mastercard.

Once you have an account it can be used on up to 3 different computers, e.g. work, home, et. al.
posted by dgeiser13 at 11:29 AM on December 23, 2006

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