It's either a new, safer era for adult content on the Web or the first step in creating a digital porn ghetto, depending upon who you ask.
- Adult industry's .XXX websites set to roll out on Tuesday
- The domain-name suffix is designed to make porn safer, easier to identify
- Adult-industry leaders fear domain may become mandatory, used to shut them down
- Proponents say .XXX will make porn sites safer from viruses and other malware
On Tuesday at 11 a.m. ET, more than 100,000 websites are expected to go live with the new .xxx domain.
The suffix was approved as a "top-level domain" address last year by ICANN, the international not-for-profit that coordinates Web addresses. The idea, they say, is to more safely organize content that has become, like it or not, common on the Web.
"The Internet is home to a wealth of content, suitable for a wide range of ages and values," reads a statement on the website of ICM Registry, which is responsible for handing out the new domain names. "The adult entertainment industry has, and always will, account for a large amount of this content and while it is enjoyed by some, it is not suitable, or of interest, to all Internet users.
"Regardless of your views on adult content, it's here to stay, so let's be adult about it."
The group says that creating the suffix will act much like .gov, .edu or .org, giving Web users a heads-up about what sort of site they are visiting based on its Web address alone.
In theory, that would help keep people from stumbling into porn by accident and make it easier for parents to keep their children away from the sites. It also would let users who want to view adult content know that they're visiting a safe, legitimate and legal site.
Porn, or the promise of porn, is frequently used online in suggestive links that mask viruses, phishing attempts and other harmful malware.
By applying for a .xxx site, webmasters, adult performers, studios and others become part of a "sponsored community," agreeing to operate legally and within agreed-upon business standards. Each .xxx site will be scanned daily with McAfee protection tools, which ICM says will help make them among the Web's safest destinations.
But as you might expect, not everyone is pleased with the move.
Some religious organizations have argued against the new .xxx names, saying that creating them amounts to an endorsement of porn.
"The establishment of a .xxx domain would increase, not decrease, the spread of pornography on the Internet, causing even more harm to children, families and communities," said Patrick Trueman, CEO of Morality in Media and former chief of the U.S. Department of Justice Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, when ICANN was voting on the plan.
The new .xxx sites will be tagged in a way that will make it easy for parents, employers or others to block them on their networks. Parents can block adult sites via parental-controls settings on most computers' control panels or by installing parental-control software.
To protect their reputations against porn purveyors who might seek to capitalize on their name, some universities and businesses have bought .xxx domain names that correspond with their .edu or .com addresses. For example, Penn State in September paid $200 each for four .xxx domains: Penn State, PSU, Nittany Lions and The Pennsylvania State University, according to the university's student newspaper.
The proliferation of .xxx addresses doesn't mean porn will disappear from .com sites. Adult sites that buy a .xxx domain are free to keep their .com or other current URL as well.
Those who oppose the .xxx domains on moral or religious grounds are being joined by critics from the opposite end of the spectrum.
Some in the porn industry fear that creating the opt-in domain could just be a first step toward making it mandatory. Then, they say, it would make it all too easy for a government somewhere to censor adult content by simply blocking access to all .xxx sites.
Playboy had been leading the charge against the new branding.
Manwin, the Luxembourg-based company that runs Playboy.com and other adult sites, has filed suit in California to stop the implementation of .xxx and said last week that it won't do business with or allow its content to be used on any sites using the suffix.
"We oppose the .XXX domain and all it stands for," said Fabian Thylmann, managing partner of Manwin, in a news release. "It is my opinion that .XXX domain is an anticompetitive business practice that works a disservice to all companies that do business on the Internet."
But not all in the industry are lined up against it.
"We believe the future of adult entertainment online is in the .xxx top level domain," said Adam Osborn, head of digital at Paul Raymond Publications. "We see a huge benefit in the adult community having an online space dedicated to our content."
The cost of registering a .xxx domain name can vary dramatically, from a few hundred dollars to simply keep someone else from using an address to much more for sites that may direct hundreds of URLs to the same content.
ICANN has established rules to prevent the early-Internet phenomenon of "cybersquatting," when someone pays the fee and grabs a name apparently associated with someone else. For example, WhiteHouse.com was, for years, a porn site. (Like most U.S. agencies, the real White House uses .gov.)
The ICM has set up an arbitration system to resolve complaints when someone claims an address applicant has improperly taken a URL that should be theirs.