A torrent of an ASCII version of The Matrix created more than 12 years ago has gone down in internet folklore as the longest-living torrent of all time, and is apparently still going strong, with users continuing to download and seed it today. TorrentFreak dubbed it "the oldest torrent that's still being actively shared." So what is the average lifespan of a torrent, anyway?
Because BitTorrent works through sharing and requires at least one person to continue seeding a file in order for others to download it, a lot of content fizzles out in popularity long before hitting the year-long mark, or even month-long mark, according to a paper published in 2007 in the IEEE Journal on Selected Areas in Communications. The researchers found the average lifespan of a torrent at the time the ASCII file was created in 2003 was about nine days, and most torrent lifespans fall between 30 and 300 hours.
Melissa Palomo is the director of data and reporting analytics at anti-piracy company Irdeto, which tracks torrents and the behavior of those who download them. She said it is hard to determine the average lifespan of a torrent today, but the Matrix file's 12 year run is "unprecedented."
"In general, torrents have a very unique lifecycle."
She said because the torrent is not an actual copy of the movie but an ASCII rendering, it set itself apart from other files and made it possible to live on for as long as it has.
"One of the things about that file that's interesting and unique is that it's fan art, so at this point it's become a cult classic and the only way you can download or access it is via file sharing," Palomo said. "This file is quite different than your average torrent file. You can't buy a legitimate copy of it."
There are several factors that go into how long a torrent lasts, including popularity of the show or movie, the time of its official release, and the quality of the recording, she said. For example, when a movie is first released, initial torrented versions of it may come from someone who actually filmed it surreptitiously in a theater and uploaded it––not the greatest quality film. But as the show or movie is officially released, users begin to upload better quality files ripped from DVDs and the original, grainy theater views fade out.
"In general, torrents have a very unique lifecycle," Palomo said. "The better quality content that becomes available, the shorter the lifespan of the older content, there's always something bigger and better that forces the lesser quality out faster."
Of course, in addition to the natural cycle of interest fading, many torrents are also removed by movie or TV companies purposefully. Jack Zielke, the creator of the ASCII Matrix, said in an interview with Nooga.com he has never been contacted by Warner Bros or Motion Picture Association of America to take his movie file down, and called the whole process "tremendously fun."
According to TorrentFreak, the file had eight active seeders as of Sunday, so hopefully it will continue to be downloaded for the foreseeable future, and the ASCII Matrix can live on.