Getting Off on the Go
By Carol Posthumus, Fri Apr 26 00:00:00 GMT 2002

Talk in mobile circles is getting hot and heavy around whether or not porn is a "killer app."

Two deepthroats - one a mobile expert, the other a porn pundit - spoke candidly to us and put some bets down on porn as a mobile performer...

If your definition of a killer app is moving an old-as-the-hills activity onto a new medium that will always attract, in equal amounts, huge hype, lots of customers - accompanied by heavy breathing and controversy - then you're on the money if you're betting on mobile porn.

But, as new as porn is to mobile, this performer, no matter how you dress it, is relatively ancient. Porn probably qualifies, these days, as old money; it is a truly, old enterprise. For a range of applications touted by some as "killer apps" - and by implication, thus fresh and new - already, around the world, mobile porn, notably, is already often swimming in the same choppy waters porn seems always destined to swim in.

Notably, porn is usually not a peaceful low-profile hassle-free ride for its purveyors: and that's the way they say they like it, until they've had enough of the industry. We found that professional media people who have worked in the hardcore sleaze business, who we called on for expert opinions, tend to prefer not to have their names associated with the sector once they have left for other pastures.

Leaving the days of content production behind that entail chores like taking home at the end of the working day pornographic videos to preview and often being in the public spotlight as their work is always a "hot story" for other media - they prefer anonymity. Likewise, mobile consultants who confirm they are discussing this topic a lot, feel the same way about their privacy.

Interestingly, not just a few of the high visibility early mobile porn successes - erotic text tales and puzzling grainy "SMS porn" (those are breasts?) - are the entrepreneurial projects of college students, who love all the publicity. It's really a very old tradition too, for college students with entrepreneurial savvy to make a quick pay-to-run-my-car buck from "adults-only" style activities: such as second hand porn mag trading or sharp poker playing amongst their friends.

Hot mobile topic

Still, while porn is old hat, it is, undoubtedly, a hot - but not necessarily cool - topic right now in the mobile world.

A mobile expert, a consultant who works extensively internationally, says that mobile porn was the subject of much discussion recently in London. He laughs: "Do I sound like an expert on this? I probably do because it's something I am finding people want to talk a lot about and analyze at the moment in mobile." Deepthroat One reckons mobile porn will be a bit of a flyer to get 3G rocking and rolling: and will help to spark it out of the starting gates.

"Yes, people are debating it as one of the big things: especially for 3G. My gut instinct is that we will see a lot of porn and sex industry entrepreneurs using 3G." Recently he test-drove 3G functionality - a ride he loved - and says, experientially, 3G is "ideally suited to these types of enterprises - it's built for sex. That's clear to see.

"The high quality video CU-CME type capabilities of 3G will be harnessed efficiently by the porn and adult industries, no doubt. Strip-show, peep show type efforts, and the like, will quickly see potential. It will all be very interesting, because, unlike fixed Internet porn, mobile is personalized and an identifiable channel. Business users, who will be first off with 3G, will think twice before using a work 3G channel for porn. Already, of course, people are making money out of mobile porn services: primarily picture messaging, screensavers and adult phone lines. Though in the United Kingdom, and elsewhere there's been controversy around phone sex lines and legislation around caller IDs of customers - so that business has some deep water."

Expensive heavy breathing

Furthermore, Deepthroat One envisages that the combination of payment mechanisms and a high price for porn on 3G is going to act as a form censorship. The combo of high prices and stringent digital certification methodologies will help to keep adults-only areas secure. Unlike with fixed Internet, porn experiences will not come cheap or free on mobile: especially on 3G. Customers will really feel mobile porn where it counts - in their pockets.

"While 3G may look built for sex: these experiences will come at a high price, people are going to have to pay for them. I am positive adult service consumers will be more discerning than they are now with Internet porn: they will want to see previews of what they're getting and so on. After all, even now sex phone lines on mobile are costly: each heavy breath and 'my sweetie, my love' could just as well as come with a cash register trilling in the background."

Indeed, hitting the headlines recently was a man in Germany tried to sue his cellular service provider, when he decided he would not pay for an enormous phone bill he'd run up with sex lines. The court reportedly threw the case out of court, saying in a statement that it was a contradiction to "make expensive, immoral phone sex calls first and then refuse to pay the bill."

Digital certificates and PINs as censorship?

Deepthroat One sees the future like this: "Consumers will acquire digital certificates: and will hold pin numbers for access. It will be the responsibility of these consumers to keep them away children. Moreover, a solid vetting process would go along with payment procedures: an effective mechanism for keeping under-agers away from mobile porn. Though, undoubtedly too, we will see some new laws, depending on the society or country, in response to porn operators moving onto mobile - ranging from outright banning to control mechanisms - that's inevitable too. New laws are coming out around new media almost every other day."

While operators' laws, in some countries, definitely exclude pornographic activities on their networks, he says that he reckons porn purveyors will initially find ways around regulations. "3G is still new enough for people to find loopholes and bend the rules. I have no doubt they will find ways to do this before new legislation is debated and introduced. 3G is a very, very powerful channel to experience - and people whose businesses are suited to it, no matter what those might be, are going to want to be part of it. Once entrepreneurs experience 3G, I can guarantee you their minds will be working overtime."

A porn deepthroat: Not much room left in the industry

A porn pundit of some ten years, who has worked internationally for one of the porn empires, has some different perspectives. He offers these to the great mobile porn debate. Deepthroat Two - who chooses to remain anonymous (as people often tend and need to do once they opt out of the industry) - has international experience in the porn business at a high editorial level. His gut reaction to mobile porn as a long-term high-profit performer is not exactly oh-wow-let-me-get-back-into-the-business. But then, bare in mind, he has not experienced the future of 3G. He calls it as he sees it now.

Deepthroat Two reckons that porn has had its day, in many ways. "Porn had a great run in the 80s. That was its heyday. Thanks in large part to Internet porn, there's not too much room left - and there's probably too much of it around now. It's quite done."

Also, Deepthroat Two feels that porn is one of the most parameter-bound and law-attracting zones around. "The reality is that there are many, many parameters in porn today - from without and within, self-imposed and externally-imposed. You have to navigate these every day. For me, being in it for a long time, I guess like any industry, it also just gets boring after a while. Creatively, I enjoyed the industry's light-hearted and edgy feel - and also enjoyed it that it was a place from where you could stir up some trouble. The industry was honest, up-front, entertaining and good for some laughs."

"Mobile porn: my gut reaction is that it is a non-goer. Of course, though, I could be wrong. As a novelty concept, yes - but I wouldn't put the house on it. The glossy, big, graphic color visuals are a huge part of the attraction of the porn experience: can't get that onto your mobile phone now. Visuals are very important to the audiences. Erotic stories on mobile? Nope, those are neither here nor there, as far as significant profits go.

"Also, for audiences, porn is a private experience that is of long time duration, typically - this seems, to me, very different to the way we use mobile technology right now?"

Carol Posthumus is a freelance author, analyzing how mobile technology impacts our lives. She lives in Jeffreys Bay, South Africa.