Learning (Again) From Porn

by , Dec 1, 2009, 1:15 PM
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Perhaps it is a sign of aging, but I tend to ignore stories involving mobile adult content. How sad or adolescent must you be to hunt down porn on a 3-inch or smaller handset?

 

"You're kidding me?" my daughter says when I test the concept on her. "These guys can't get enough porn... anywhere." Admittedly, her 17-year-old view is skewed to the high end of the hormone scale, but I acknowledge that I may not quite be in the loop when it comes to sex and mobile.

I am sure there will be sociological dissertations written on this someday, but the ways in which the Internet has made available to teens the most vicious and detestable visions of sexuality imaginable is scary to me both as a parent and just as a human being. I have no idea how the boys in my daughter's generation are processing the highly fetishistic forms that adult content now take -- and that concerns me. What it means to distribute the same content on mobile is a couple more dissertations down the road. But we ignore this at our peril.

Apparently, while major media have been scrambling to make their mobile apps and Web sites look presentable, the same adult content industry that paved the way for so many online models is trying to do the same on handsets.

Whether porn will have quite the same power on mobile it once had on the Web is anyone's guess, but the year-end search stats from Yahoo suggest that the taste for titillation is here in some measure. The distance between the top Web search keywords and the top mobile searches is unsurprising but still notable.

On the Web the top ten was a roster of pop culture hits, from Michael Jackson (#1) to "Twilight" (#2) to Megan Fox (#4) to Kim Kardashian (#8). On mobile, we still see a large number of people searching for general types of mobile content and utility as they continue to discover their own devices: Mobile Games (#2), Movies (#4), Mail (#6) and Ringtones (#9). But guess who shows up at the top of the mobile search list for Yahoo this year? None other than Megan Fox. In fact, Rihanna (#5) and Lady Gaga (#7) are two other female celebs on the list.

The appeal of cheesecake on a cell phone is beyond me, although I don't mean to suggest that it constitutes porn. I am sure that some percentage of these searches involved people looking into the acting and singing chops of these celebrities, but I am just as sure that wallpaper grabs were also part of it. 

The Android environment now has a dedicated adult content mini-store in the MiKandi app. Purportedly developed by refuges from Microsoft, T-Mobile and the adult industry, MiKandi distributes itself outside of the Android Market and so requires that users override their default security settings that block unknown content. The company has said in various reports that it plans Blackberry, Windows Mobile and Java versions of the store.

For now MiKandi is little more than the press release that got the media's attention. One virtual vibrator app from the MiKandi group itself is in the store as well as an app that is really just a browser link to an adult mobile content portal. Curiously it is that browser link that leads to some of the more interesting views into the evolving mobile adult industry. Because there is hardcore content involved, I can't in all good conscience direct you to specific mobile URLs, but let me reconnoiter a bit.

To my chagrin, this adult segment is actually practicing some marketing and mobile content models that are already ahead of the mainstream media pack. For instance, one adult portal immediately recognizes whether I am coming in from an iPhone or Android phone and it pushes device specific offers to me throughout the experience.

I know that ad networks already practice device-sensitive serving, but content providers rarely do this on mobile Web sites. While the site can't offer a dedicated app on the iPhone, it does walk the user through creating a home screen bookmark.

To be sure, porn is pushy, but it is also making the available options highly visible to the most interested users and allowing them to become brand loyalists easily. Also noteworthy is that the adult portal provided user reviews of the various services. While it is difficult to implement on mainstream media, there is a real dearth of user-generated evaluation of mobile content. The reviews in the various mobile app stores have proven invaluable to developers on these platforms -- and yet there is nothing comparable for the mobile Web.

The user reviews of the adult sites on this portal could be insightful. They are very sensitive to load times and the value proposition relative to the competition. I wonder whether the mobile Web could develop a feedback loop for the mainstream media that would be as helpful. 

There are a whole host of ease-of-use features I found while perusing the adult portals and clicking through to the marketing sites. Almost all of the landing pages are just promotional front ends with sample clips and trial offer come-ons. Notably, hardcore images aside, almost all of the site were more colorfully designed and mobile-friendly than the majority of news and information sites I see on the mobile Web. The navigation was simple and clear, with oversized buttons that required no squinting.

Surprisingly, almost every site I tried off of the main adult portal scaled perfectly to both the iPhone and the Droid. Even though each of these sites had its own branding, there was a look and feel consistency because the sites succeeded in filling the screen and directing the eye to one or two main pieces of content.

Many of the sites also have a "lite" button that ratchets back the detail to accommodate slower network speeds. The sites also offer a range of premium content models, bundling access across sites and limited time access.

The full effect of this consistency and sophistication is that, for good or ill, it gives the user some level of confidence in the content economy here. Of course a number of these fetish sites are owned by the same publishers, and so a certain amount of seamlessness is to be expected. Nevertheless, there are numerous providers both competing and cooperating here, and they give the user a sense that the ecosystem is evolving in a coherent way. This is not what the general mobile Web feels like at all, and I wonder if there is room for more of this in the mainstream.

0 comments on "Learning (Again) From Porn".

  1. Mike Lynch from Verified Audit
    commented on: December 1, 2009 at 1:56 p.m.

    It's very interesting how porn publishers seem to be both competing and cooperating. I wonder if that is one of their great strengths— a focus group of highly interested and focused "partners."

  2. Molly Garris from Arc Worldwide
    commented on: December 1, 2009 at 2:07 p.m.

    Great commentary, as per usual, Steve.

    Although I'm working with large consumer brands today, I have worked in mobile adult content and value some of my learnings like:

    - ability to load content based on location (due to content rating rules / regulations)
    - power of device detection and great UX
    - server load requirements
    - age verification
    - affiliate marketing metrics and reporting
    - mobile dating / community feature sets

    Sure, I didn't talk about it around the Thanksgiving table or in certain job interviews (especially odd since I was a 28 yr old female at the time), but there is a lot to be learned from our friends in the Valley. :)

  3. Adam Day
    commented on: December 1, 2009 at 2:11 p.m.

    In 1998 while working for an SEO consulting firm the Owner and CEO said if you want to understand competitive advantages online, look how the adult entertainment industry is using technology. Steve Smith in this article on mobile is right on the money!

  4. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited
    commented on: December 1, 2009 at 3:22 p.m.

    Steve, your instincts and sensitivity will become stronger as this section of mobile grows. So if you think of all those kids watching a mass rape without concious or contacting anyone on their mobile is abhorent, just wait. Advertising (any impression via any media) works. They cannot have it both ways.

  5. Christopher Bishop from LiveEx
    commented on: December 1, 2009 at 4:49 p.m.

    Aren't mobile devices the only "personal" and "private" media device for audiences in emerging markets (where people share computers in internet cafes and TVs and living space with families)? Mobile seems the most reasonable display media for adult content in those conditions.

  6. Patricia Philbin from Architect of Communication
    commented on: December 2, 2009 at 3:40 a.m.

    Good article Steve, and I agree with Adam Day's comment, the porn industry was an early adopter of leading-edge technology. Some of the first Mac/PC hybrid CDs were adult content. I recall attending the first Adult-Expo (which ran concurrently with Comdex) and seeing the first implementations of DVD technology. As a journalist I always politely bypassed the booth bimbos (male and female alike) talked to the owner or biz manager (typically with an MBA). They said they had cooperative agreements with major software and hardware makers (for example, testing prototypes of flat-panel screens) to ensure that their content was compatible with the devices, or for streaming, etc.

    I don't work in this industry (laugh) and I'm not interested in porn, but I am interested in how this sector is driving new innovations. Whether I like this or not, that's another issue.

  7. Jerry Foster from Energraphics
    commented on: December 3, 2009 at 4:44 a.m.

    The gist of this article is that this industry tends to lead the way in IT and it is leading the way with mobile as well (Molly's comments added to the discussion). The lead-in of the article and some comment caveats, however, doth protest too much (marketers don't need to tell each other what we do or don't watch in private). :-)

    Twilight is huge with young women these days while young men having a porn image as their mobile background probably wouldn't do very well with them. Social currency comes from being clued into something the other person gets excited about - and 18 year old women like romance (Edward). It would be smarter for a man to have a Twilight image on his phone as well (Victoria or Alice, not Edward).

    I also don't see the appeal of this industry on mobile, but it won't be a generational problem. Those who spend the most in the industry are males over 30, and not because they are missing out on dates the 18 year old guys are supposedly getting (women tend to date older guys) but because they have money.

  8. David Thurman from Aussie Rescue of Illinois
    commented on: December 3, 2009 at 9:25 a.m.

    While I can't confirm this, an old colleague of mine said his college thesis was on the print industry, and the first printing press printed porn (well porn for those days I assume).

    When I was doing just web back in 1998 I was approached by a person wanting an adult site. Before taking it on I wanted to understand the industry, was it scumbags, business men/women or what was the makeup? I was surprised to find a very involved, self policed group out there, granted the end product was a bit shocking at times, we never did take on the work as they didn't want to pay the rate.

    I think the adult industry has always lead the path, like mentioned the CD/DVD market, they were streaming video while most sites had no clue, they were taking credit card payments and setting up gateways long before ebay/Amazon and others. Hate them or love them, they have always been testers of new technologies. I am shocked that they haven't let the way in mobile like they did other media vehicles. But maybe that speaks to the change in how we consume media and the maturity of those mediums.

    Great article as always Steve. Thanks.

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