Stuart Lawley has chosen a strange mission for his company, ICM Registry: helping you find pornography online. Is this something for which sentient human beings require assistance?
Bloomberg Businessweek readers are familiar with Lawley, a British-born serial entrepreneur whose adventures in the digital skin trade were the topic of a summer cover story, “The New Republic of Porn.” As described there, Lawley owns “a 12-person business in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., that operates the top-level domain name ‘.xxx,’ an alternative to ‘.com.’”:
Say you want to charge customers for videos and live webcam conversation featuring male-to-female transvestites. You could come up with a catchy name and buy an address ending in .com from GoDaddy or another website retailer. If you did, VeriSign (VRSN), a separate company based in Reston, Va., that operates the digital infrastructure for .com sites, would get a cut of your fee. In online argot, VeriSign is a “registry.” Lawley’s ICM is also a registry, and its .xxx sites are available via GoDaddy, too. As for the transvestite porn site, it’s called shemales.xxx, and it’s already been taken. … Within the virtual realm made up of “top-level domains”—.com, .net, .org, .gov, .edu, and so forth—Lawley portrays .xxx as a responsibly run red-light district. Go there if you want wall-to-wall copulation of a decidedly unsentimental strain; stay away if you do not.
Now Lawley is taking the next step, introducing a dedicated search engine—Search.xxx—that he says will function like Google.com (GOOG) and other familiar search engines, except that it will bring users exclusively to the 23 million pages of porn sites with .xxx top-level domain names. According to Lawley, Search.xxx “will customize users’ experience” based on previous searches and will create no online “trails.” In other words, no evidence will exist on the user’s URL history or other search engines. (Heads up, corporate computer security people!)
In a recent phone call, Lawley reminded me that .xxx domains benefit from daily malware scanning. Parents can disable all .xxx domains if they want to keep the kids out of Lawley’s racy neighborhood. And Search.xxx will have a “clean user interface,” meaning it will not carry video clips of activity that might exceed the user’s personal speed limit.
Lawley makes money from fees he charges website operators. His larger plan is to revive the for-pay porn business, which has been overwhelmed by free online smut. Customers will shell out a few bucks to satiate their carnal appetites if they know they’ll get superior production values in a fraud-free environment, according to Lawley. The next element of his plan will be a proprietary pay system he analogizes to Apple’s (AAPL) iTunes Store. Users will buy some kind of porn currency, which they can conveniently and securely dole out as they wander the .xxx realm.
Lawley hopes to introduce this new form of currency next year. He has not settled on a name (Porn Pal?), but a double entendre seems likely.