From Techweek, 9/18/2000, http://www.techweek.com by permission
The indispensable computer in your office and home is a portal to 15 million pages of porn on the Web. This year, 72 million people worldwide will be virtual voyeurs.
Sept. 19, 2000
By Heather Stringer
It happened almost every morning. Eric arrived at work wondering how to distract himself from the lure of Internet porn sites. With just a few e-mails awaiting answers, the San Jose marketing communications manager was overcome with the intense desire to view an adult Web site. Quickly finishing his work-related tasks, Eric (not his real name) soon had visions of a particular porn site dancing through his head.
Eric, 30, attempted to divert his lascivious craving with a Web search of mundane sites, like whales, but even the computer seemed to conspire against him. If he keyed in "po" for a search on possums, the URL was automatically completed with previously visited sites such as porncity.com. Succumbing to temptation, Eric finally entered an adult site, preparing for a reverie of lust-but his heart leapt when he heard footsteps approaching. Eric quickly minimized his site. He'd continue later.
He is one of more than 72 million people worldwide who will visit porn sites this year, fueling the $1.1 billion online adult industry, according to Flying Crocodile Inc., a Seattle-based company tracking online porn traffic. The company estimates between 8 and 15 percent of the Net's surfers visit adult sites each week. With more than 15 million porn Web pages to choose from, it's a veritable smorgasbord of sex. The top online adult site in July, Karasxxx.com, attracted more than 3 million visitors-exceeding the number visiting CDNOW.com or Hotmail.com, according to Nielsen/NetRatings of Milpitas, an Internet audience measurement service.
Web surfers around the globe have quickly discovered the advantages of cyberporn over adult movies and magazines, a revelation responsible for adult site traffic's viral-like growth rate. Net surfers can skip embarrassing trips to adult bookstores for material capturing their prurient interests for maybe an hour. Web users now enjoy access to massive varieties of content- from soft porn to hardcore images of either gender in a slew of combinations, online sex videos, live rooms where viewers can talk to performers and almost anything else imaginable in the wildest of fantasies.
Not wishing to miss out on any business, many sites offer images to satisfy any sexual orientation or fetish. There are sites that feature gays, lesbians, almost any ethnic variety, teens, older women and there's even a site for people with foot fetishes. And men are not the only ones viewing online porn. Sites such as xxxforwomen.com and hunkpost.com are just a couple of the offerings for women wishing to indulge in cyberfantasies. Surfers can not only access sites without leaving their homes-or cubicles for that matter-but can also view large selections of content for free.
This easy access to a prodigious array of online content may be bliss to some Webbies, but Colorado psychologist Douglas Weiss says, for increasing numbers of people it's a recipe for sex addiction. More children, too, are beginning to struggle with online porn addictions.
As adult sites saturate the Web, some critics are becoming increasingly frustrated with the slimy marketing tactics employed by online pornographers competing for traffic via a medium with little, if any, regulation.
Despite the adult industry's annoying marketing strategies, online porn purveyors can be thanked for demonstrating the Internet's profitability to the rest of the business community. Adult content producers seized upon Web technology at least a year before other commercial enterprises realized the potential-which explains why more than 80 percent of the computerized images on the Web in 1995 were pornographic, according to a study by Carnegie Mellon University.
This isn't the first time porn companies have adopted new technology early on. During the early 1980s it was the adult industry that initially took advantage of videos-and its preference for VHS format eventually doomed Sony's Betamax.
"Historically, the porn industry has been good at adopting new technology," says Peggy O'Neill, a Nielsen/NetRatings analyst. "They grab new ways of offering even more privacy, and you have to pay more for porn offline. You can go onto Playboy.com and get a lot of free content."
Andrew Edmond, 27, was a programmer at RealNetworks in 1996 when he started toying with the idea of using the Internet for adult content. He and another programming buddy at the Seattle software company created a porn site on the side, but they struggled to attract traffic to their site. It wasn't long before the duo left the adult content business and sought a better mousetrap for making money in the online adult industry. Their answer: something called a "counter" that would allow porn Webmasters to track visitors' paths through their sites. The tool permitted porn producers to determine which links and images were most likely to seduce a consumer into becoming a paid subscriber. Today, the counter is one of several products offered by Edmond's company, Flying Crocodile, Inc.
Although the company tracks about 55 million anonymous online adult content users a day, a recent survey found that around 46 percent of the Net's porn surfers are married and 33 percent are single. Four out of five are men, and 13 percent work in manufacturing/operations jobs-the largest percentage of all careers listed.
Edmond didn't stop with the counter. He also started selling a product called MoneyTree, which turns adult content competitors into business partners. This is how it works: Online porn users usually visit several linked sites before signing up as a paid subscriber. The linked sites visited along the way get a cut of the subscriber fee if they are MoneyTree members. The MoneyTree and counter are used largely by smaller online porn operations run by a single individual or just a few people, according to JT Edmond, Andrew's brother and the company's public relations director.
Apparently business is very good. Flying Crocodile's staff has more than quadrupled within the past year and revenues are expected to be in the mid-eight figures, JT Edmond says.
Caity McPherson, of San Francisco, is producer of JuicyMango.com, one of the many smaller operations. By day she works as a product manager and operates the site during her free time.
"I knew it could be lucrative and found that other people doing it were making money," says McPherson, explaining why she launched her site. JuicyMango.com attracts between 5,000 and 10,000 visitors a day-translating into between $20,000 and $40,000 in annual revenues.
McPherson, 32, says the competition is fierce among online porn content producers, which is one reason she dreamed up creative ideas such as Tech Sign Girls. This part of her site pictures nude women in front of high-tech companies such as IBM and Hewlett-Packard. It's the most popular feature on her site.
As thousands of pornographers create new, bold ways to draw traffic, Eric also finds himself becoming disturbingly bold with his sex addiction. Soon the images of naked women weren't enough. He started entering rooms where he could see a woman performing in real time. He could write messages to her, tell her he was new at this and sometimes ask her to do things. The addiction was the most out of control about a year ago, when he would stay late after work every day for an entire week-sometimes until 3:30 a.m.
"I'd look at the clock and think 'what happened'?" says Eric. "I think it isolates me from other people at work. Sometimes I wonder if they know, and it's always a fear in the back of my mind."
Psychologist Weiss, who is executive director of Heart to Heart Counseling Centers in Colorado Springs, says it's common for addicts to spend hours viewing online porn. People who spent an hour a day looking at X-rated movies or porn magazines during pre-Internet days can now sink six or seven hours a day into digital porn because there's so much to choose from, he says.
Not only is Weiss seeing four times as many clients with online sex addictions than he did three years ago, but clients are getting younger. Even 12 and 13-year-olds with access to computers are sometimes getting addicted to porn, he says.
McPherson says she feels sorry for the spouses of people who struggle with sexual addiction, but she also believes there are positive sides to the adult industry. "It's absolutely normal for men and women to look at titillating images. But I don't feel as good about people who put up degrading images."
While sexual addiction can be relegated to the weak-willed or simply perverted, online porn is designed to draw in Net surfers and keep them hooked. Although many of these marketing tactics are simply manipulative, others have been deemed illegal. Some sites use names resembling popular non-porn sites in hopes of attracting accidental visitors.
Even if surfers leave immediately, the site can boast a high number of unique visitors and charge more for advertising, says Parry Aftab, head of Internet safety organization Cyberangels. In the case of NASA.com, many of the visitors to this porn site were looking for NASA.gov. After successful lobbying by NASA, the site was shut down in late 1997 by InterNIC, an organization that registers domain names.
Others try to lure traffic by filling their sites with popular search words, a tactic that's led to some lawsuits within the adult industry. In 1997, Playboy sued Calvin Designer Label-an adult Web site company in San Francisco-for filling two porn sites with the words "playboy" and "playmate." These two words were also hidden repeatedly in the HTML code so the sites would come up when surfers typed in "Playboy" on a search. Playboy sued for trademark infringement, and the judge temporarily shut down the sites-playboyxxx.com and playmatelive.com. The judge also issued a preliminary judgment that would allow Playboy to win without a trial. A final judgment should be released within weeks.
Another method for trapping porn site visitors is a tactic called "circle jerking." Often, when a Web user attempts to exit out of a porn site, a slew of other linked sites are automatically loaded, forcing the surfer to exit from each site individually before they can leave the original site. Once Eric almost got caught when he couldn't exit quickly.
Yet of all the questionable marketing techniques, pornographic spam is perhaps the king of slimy promotional tools because it distributes porn even to consumers who have no interest in adult sites. Not only do some porn sites disguise the content of e-mail subject lines, they frequently scramble routing information to elude filter services. Congress is poised to regulate spam and the House of Representatives has approved a bill banning unsolicited e-mail where users don't have the ability to opt out of mass e-mail lists. The bill has yet to go before the Senate.
However, it was one site's marketing ploy and Eric's addiction that eventually exposed his after-hours online trysting. Although he'd never used a work phone to satisfy his addiction, one night Eric stumbled onto a site advertising phone sex if he simply entered his number. His phone soon rang, but there was only a recorded greeting at the other end. Although Eric was never identified as the call's instigator, news of the incident spread throughout the company.
"It made everybody nervous," Eric recalls. "I felt really bad, and I decided I needed to tell my manager." The manager was so impressed with his honesty no disciplinary action was taken.
Ultimately, it's money, not content, that titillates porn site entrepreneurs and anything adversely affecting their bottom line is akin to a cold shower. Frequently this lust for profits results in unexpected charges and disgruntled visitors. In August the Federal Trade Commission filed lawsuits against many adult Web sites accused of illegally billing credit card customers who thought they were receiving a free tour of the sites.
Credit card companies are also cracking down on adult sites. Last May American Express began notifying porn content companies it would no longer accept their business. Amex officials said it was too costly dealing with the many disputes arising from porn site billing practices.
MasterCard International and Visa International also have hit porn sites with stricter rules. In the spring, both companies instituted stiff fines for merchants in industries with a high risk of charge-backs-when a cardholder refuses to pay a bill and the charge goes back to the merchant. MasterCard is the most aggressive with a fine of $25,000 per month if charge-backs are more than 1 percent of the total monthly transactions for two months. At six months, that fee jumps to $50,000.
For Eric the battle is bigger than money. He's no longer satisfied with images of nude women or even the online live rooms. It's gone beyond that. Recently he started getting together with someone he'd met through a porn chat room and sometimes he spends two hours a day communicating with the individual via computer.
But these meetings don't satisfy his desire for a genuine romantic relationship and he feels guilty for using the person.
"You can only go so far," Eric says. "You get so close but it's not a real relationship. I hate it, but I keep doing it."
Sept. 18, 2000
By Ed Frauenheim
In the beginning, it was technology designed to help family members see each other as they talked over the Web. Instead, it's morphed into a sex toy for those who like to talk dirty and act provocatively.
Videoconferencing online-the sharing of live video and audio images over the Internet-is starting to take off, with growing numbers of people buying webcams and installing software such as NetMeeting, CU-SeeMe, ICUii and iVisit. But the main users of these programs appear to be interested primarily in exhibiting sex acts rather than showing off the grandkids.
Some Web sites involved in videoconferencing hope to transform themselves into broader, G-rated communities suitable for family and business use. But they face challenges, including the way some virtual flashers find their way into supposedly non-sexual video-chat areas.
On the other hand, those utilizing the cutting edge of video chat don't necessarily condemn users who are getting off online.
"I look at it like I do the telephone," says Tim Dorcey, one of the pioneers in the field who's now with iVisit. "It's not my business what two people talk about."
Dorcey helped launch Internet videoconferencing when he was at Cornell University in the early 1990s. There, he worked on CU-SeeMe, a program for video calls over the Web that's still available today. Dorcey hoped videoconferencing would take off as the next level of online chat. But then ISPs like AOL switched from a per-minute charge to a flat monthly payment. That effectively put videophones on hold, because ISPs had no incentive to promote an activity that wouldn't directly bring in revenue.
Microsoft, however, gave the technology a boost a few years ago when it developed its NetMeeting videoconferencing program and began giving it away for free. IVisit also gives its software away. ICUii.com's parent firm Cybration charges $29.95 after a trial period. CUSeeMe Networks offers a free version of CU-SeeMe for joining its video chat rooms, and sells a more advanced version for $49.99.
Now, broadcasting yourself over the Web has become cheap (webcams cost as little as $50) and as easy as downloading software and plugging in a computer peripheral.
IVisit, ICUii and Cu-SeeMe provide directories, essentially chat rooms with a video and audio component. There are other sites that allow NetMeeting users to find one another. While NetMeeting allows just one-to-one videophoning, iVisit, ICUii and CU-SeeMe allow you to see live video streams of multiple people on your screen.
Desktop computer video has become the fastest component of the videoconferencing industry, according to a report earlier this year by the MultiMedia Telecommunications Association, a trade group whose members include Ericsson, Lucent and Qualcomm. The report also found that spending on videoconferencing equipment-including gear used for non-Internet purposes-more than doubled between 1995 and 1999, climbing from $550 million to $1.2 billion.
The number of ICUii users has skyrocketed from 1.5 million six months ago to 2.5 million, according to Cybration of Corpus Christi, Texas. About 30,000 people use iVisit each day, even though there have been no marketing campaigns, according to Los Angeles-based Eyematic, its parent company. Between 1,300 and 1,600 people download the iVisit software daily.
Many of those iVisitors are revealing more than just their smiling mug. On a recent day, 138 of 233 people logged on were in the adult section. But that's not unusual in the world of online videoconferencing. Internet Locator Service lists that allow NetMeeting users to connect are chock-full of sex-seekers. Those uninterested in naked videophoning have to make that clear with comments such as "family only" and "clean chat." Cybration estimates that 95 percent of ICUii users are videophoning with X-rated intentions. The company caters to this audience by creating just two G-rated rooms and 12 adult rooms-five of which are devoted to gay sex.
Online videoconferencing looks a lot like the nascent period of the Net itself. At its inception, 40 percent of Web surfers were headed to porn sites, whereas now the figure is estimated to be between 8 and 15 percent.
"As soon as somebody invents a new video technology, somebody's pointing it at somebody's crotch," says Malcolm Maclachlan, a media and e-commerce analyst for market research firm International Data Corp.
Rooms devoted to crotch-pointing cams, though, don't always involve steamy video streams or titillating talk. In iVisit adult sections, some participants refrain from showing themselves at all, and a recent topic of conversation was soccer. That subject may relate to the fact that the vast majority of videosex cruisers appear to be male-which would correspond to a survey showing 84 percent of online porn users to be men.
Even with the dearth of women, adult videoconference rooms get quite graphic. It's not uncommon for the live images to involve masturbating and other sex acts.
This can make companies behind the technology uncomfortable. Microsoft used to provide a public directory listing NetMeeting users. But partly because of adult content there, the software giant halted the service. Now those users have to surf to independent sites to learn who's ready to videophone.
CUSeeMe Networks' site, CUSeeMeWorld.com, has a policy explicitly banning nudity and "offensive language."
IVisit and Cybration try to keep X-rated users segregated through separate video-chat areas. IVisit also notes its company's servers aren't technically hosting any of the sex videostreams - the content is actually being run through the end user's computer or ISP.
Dorcey is disappointed that sex has dominated online videoconferencing thus far. But he refuses to judge the practice, and notes that it's more about interpersonal communication than traditional X-rated Web sites.
"It is very different from porn. It's two people agreeing to do this," he says.
Even so, purveyors of online videoconferencing can't wait for their users to wear more clothes. Part of the reason the technology hasn't taken off already among corporations is a bandwidth squeeze-one that's now being alleviated thanks to the advent of DSL and other high-speed connection methods.
"With bandwidth [constraints], it's been more of a fun tool than [an] application for business," says Cybration CEO Kevin Adair.
Now that adult content is such a major part of video chat sites, people are dissuaded from using the technology for other, more chaste purposes, says Orang Dialameh, Eyematic's CEO.
Dialameh believes people's willingness to disrobe stems directly from their sense of anonymity. He hopes to reduce that at iVisit by asking people to register with real identities at the site. Users would still have only nicknames shown to others online, but may be more hesitant to bare all knowing a system administrator would know who they are offline.
Eventually, Eyematic wants to add enhancements like allowing users to create animated characters based on facial features. Its plan involves attracting other online communities-such as education organizations-and encouraging their members to do videophoning via iVisit.
"We'd like to become the Yahoo! of this space," says Dialameh.
Cybration also wants to appeal to a broader audience. It hopes to lure business customers with its multi-party edition of ICUii, costing $34.95.
"A team leader could broadcast to 50 people, or the CEO of the company could broadcast to everyone on the [local area network]," Adair says.
Cybration has the same long-term strategy as Eyematic when it comes to cooling down the sexpots: Get people to register. In the short term, a major problem faced by both firms is what might be called video sexual harassment. People who leave the adult salons and essentially expose themselves to people in G-rated rooms. For Cybration, it means constant monitoring and ejection of offenders.
"It's an uphill struggle," says Adair. "My wife gets up at 6 o'clock in the morning and starts kicking people off."
At iVisit, you can personally "blacklist" anyone who ticks you off. But the site is working on more sophisticated ways the community as a whole can identify and ostracize bad eggs. Dorcey says an unwanted, graphic, live camera shot is more disturbing than a harassing phone call or illicit e-mail text message.
"A picture's worth a thousand words," says Dorcey. "Video does have the ability to make a huge impact in a short time."
Ed Frauenheim can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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