XXX in Tech

Secure Your Spank Bank! .XXX Offers a Safe New Search Engine for Parallel Universe of Porn

Next up? An iTunes-like micropayments system for smut.

screen shot 2012 09 27 at 11 23 12 am Secure Your Spank Bank! .XXX Offers a Safe New Search Engine for Parallel Universe of Porn

Awhile back, a friend confessed that she used Safari exclusively for watching porn, so her . . . unconventional searches wouldn’t pollute her Google results–or good moral standing. Last week, another friend admitted to clearing out his browser history every single time he indulged. (I got the impression this was a fairly regular ordeal.)

Even with the advent of privacy (read: porn) mode, one never quite feels incognito. “You could have been looking for Brazilian midget transsexuals or something, you know?” Stuart Lawley, CEO of ICM Registry told Betabeat in a booming British accent. “And then you’re looking for Brazilian wax and it autocompletes. How are you going to explain that to your partner looking over your shoulder?”

With browsers like Chrome and the latest version of Safari enhancing the top search bar, he said, “the scope for embarrassment” is huge.

ICM wants to help with that–as the first step in Mr. Lawley’s plan to create a parallel Internet, of sorts, for the adult entertainment industry. It took ICM seven years and roughly $10 million to secure the top-level domain name .xxx from Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). Today, ICM is launching a search engine for porn that lets users safely browse sites with a .xxx domain name, purchased via ICM, of course.

Mr. Lawley pointed out that the separate search site addresses recent changes in algorithms, like Penguin and Pandora for Google, that have de-ranked pornography. “It’s now getting harder to find,” he said. “One of our registrants also owns Pussy.com and for years, for the search term ‘pussy,’ he was on page one! For years! And now he’s on page seven.”

Borrowing the Google model, search.xxx’s homepage is simple and clean to avoid the “immediate assault on your sense” from cam girl pop unders or FriendFinder ads. The site lets you indicate your sexual orientation and spits out 10 results which don’t show up in Google auto-complete or spotlight for Macs. Although take note, not-so-gentle readers, the names of the webpages I clicked on from those searches and search terms showed up in my Chrome history, undermining the company’s privacy claims.

The amount of searchable content is also limited. “Last count, we’d crawled 24.5 million pages of adult content so there’s definitely enough content there to satisfy even the most, uh, discerning viewer,” Mr. Lawley said. However, his site doesn’t include the major “tube sites” owned by Manwin, like YouPorn and XTube, which can be viewed through a different search engine. And it also tends to show paid sites.

But ICM has a plan for that too. The next step in ICM’s vision of a parallel universe of porn that mimics the mainstream Internet. The notion has its detractors, like tube site owner Manwin, which along with Digital Playground brought an antitrust lawsuit against ICM over worries that requiring specialized domain names would lead to their sites being sequestered and thus easily filtered.

When it comes to payments, Mr. Lawley borrows from Apple’s iTunes, rather than Google. “A lot of [porn providers] are still stuck in $29/month, which is yesterday’s business model,” he said. “There’s nobody doing micro-payments in the adult space, it just doesn’t work in the porn business yet. Nobody has had the economies of scale to be able to do that.” To cater to consumers used to buying in small chunks, he wants to offer “a safe, secure, regulated, e-Wallet for porn.”

“We would have a merchant relationship, just like Apple works with all their app developers. None of those developers have your payment details,” said Mr. Lawley. While iTunes is a boon for consumers, considering Apple’s relationship with its third-party developers, he might want to downplay the comparison.

For now, ICM makes money from annual registration fees for the .xxx domain name. That was also discussed in the antitrust lawsuit. During the period when ICM offered trademark owners a chance to buy the .xxx version of their site, mainstream sites felt compelled to buy the domain just so they wouldn’t have a dirty doppelganger on the Internet. Mr. Lawley demurred those concerns. “We have very strict anti-cyber-squatting rules and I think our of the hundreds of thousands of names that we’ve sold, we’ve had 30 complaints,” he said.

But the recurring revenue from registrations isn’t the only way ICM is making money. “We sold off some very high profile single word key words,” Mr. Lawley said, pointing out that Gay.xxx went to the porographers at Corbin Fisher for half a million dollars and Movies.xxx was purchased for $90,000.

With ICANN’s loosey-goosey new rules, porn isn’t the only industry to be ravaged by the land-grab for new top-level domains. But Mr. Lawley has an advantage, ICM also has applications for .porn, .sex, and .adult. We can think of a few consumer web startups who might be envious of that easy monetization.

Follow Nitasha Tiku on Twitter or via RSS. ntiku@observer.com