.xxx domain – a new way to look at pornography

Creators of a new “red light” suffix hope to put porn in its proper place. Julian Smith/AAP

.xxx domain – a new way to look at pornography

Creators of a new “red light” suffix hope to put porn in its proper place. Julian Smith/AAP

This month’s launch of the .xxx internet domain, a new section of the internet dedicated to pornography and erotica, is getting people hot and bothered.

The global body coordinating internet addresses is the US-based Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), and the justification for the creation of a .xxx domain name is that more refined classification improves search and security factors with regard to adult-content websites.

Companies, it should be pointed out, are under no obligation to use it.

A red light district for the web

The thinking behind the introduction of .XXX goes like this: if everyone in the adult industry adopts the new domain name, parents or school staff can more readily filter such content from the curious eyes of children.

And, on the other side, the .xxx name will help legitimate consumers find erotica and porn.

Existing companies and would-be porn sites have been given 50 days to register their .xxx domain before general sales begin. The sites will go live next year.

At this early stage, ICANN is encouraging companies of all sorts, both big and small, to stake a .xxx claim in order to protect the online reputation of their corporate brands.

What does this mean?

Well, one would assume blue chip companies with a .com presence are purchasing their .xxx counterparts to prevent squatters from taking it.

No major company wants an apparent spin-off porn site tarnishing its brand, or for an .xxx equivalent to launch marketing campaigns against their main site.

And for a fee of up to USD$300, those companies can avoid being associated with porn sites by buying up .xxx domains.

For me, a couple of things come to mind regarding the new scheme.

1) By making it easier to block access to porn sites, the new domain name may have the unintended consequence of fostering an increase in censorship rather than encouraging educational schemes to deal with the social issues of sexual culture.

In 2006, a New Scientist report revealed the Vietnamese government had claimed it wanted to deny citizens access to online pornography when, in actual fact, it was more concerned with shutting out visitors to political and religious websites.

Technological initiatives to protect the privacy of online porn consumers could lead to new cutting-edge anonymity networks online.

Depending on your opinion about staying anonymous online, this could be a favourable or unfavourable side-effect of the new domain.

2) The mere existence of a .xxx domain name suggests the emergence of an online “red light” district that suppresses open and honest inquiry into the fundamental nature of pornography and the complex reasons for its existence.

Like your credit card? Thank pornography

Pornography is the elephant in the room with respect to information technology. Porn of all sorts is as old as civilization itself, but the term still conjures negative connotations. This even though it’s been a constant catalyst for technological innovation.

In his 1996 paper Pornography Drives Technology: Why Not to Censor the Internet, lawyer Peter Johnson argues that pornography, as a chief application, may have led the internet to become as ubiquitous as it is today.

That’s because technologies live or die through their applications – it’s a symbiotic, and constantly evolving, relationship.

Many such examples exist. The Apple Macintosh found success after the invention of desktop publishing; the advent of the spreadsheet in the guise of VisiCalc made consumers want to purchase the IBM PC.

Pundits such as Canadian technology writer Patchen Barss would similarly argue that the pervasive adoption of bygone media such as Super 8 film and VHS videotape were all subtly motivated by the psycho-biological drive to either produce or distribute pornography.

The fruit of the poisonous tree” metaphor, usually found in US criminal courts, is one I often like to invoke in these circumstances.

It refers in this case to positive technological advances that may be derived from the perceived “negative” world of pornography.

In his 2009 feature film comedy Middle Men, director George Gallo employs this metaphor to explore how the explosion of internet pornography in the 1990s came from the pioneers of electronic commerce.

The film suggests we have the adult entertainment industry in part to thank for our ability to use credit cards for online transactions.

What’s in a (domain) name?

The .xxx rebranding of online pornography could also offer us an opportunity to rethink the way we approach the genre.

Perhaps a neologism is needed for these new online adult portals, one that’s free from existing bias.

Language influences our sentiments, so my own offering in this regard would be a neutral-sounding word such as akasen, the Japanese word for “red-line”.

At very least, the launch of the .xxx domain name provides us with an opportunity to revise the way we think, and talk, about pornography.

Lets hope that’s a change for the better.