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12 ways porn shaped the internet

How adult content improved the web's infrastructure

For an industry that many people won't admit they've ever patronised, pornography has had an amazing impact on virtually every new medium, from cave painting to photography. Dirty pictures have been credited with ensuring the future of the VCR, boosting cable TV subscriptions, helping to kill off the Betamax and HD DVD formats, and (perhaps most important) driving the growth of the internet.

In fact, the adult entertainment industry has been on top of many of the web's most crucial tech innovations - but not because it invented any of them.

According to Lewis Perdue, author of Eroticabiz: How Sex Shaped the internet, "without business and technical pioneers in the online sex business, the world wide web would never have grown so big so quickly."

The innovations happen because porn is "an ecosystem in which participants are willing - indeed forced - to experiment, and where experimentation isn't hobbled by common sense, good taste, or bureaucracy," says Bruce Arnold, principal of Caslon Analytics, a research and analysis firm from Braddon, Australia, that specialises in regulatory issues, demographics, social trends, and technologies.

In an industry notorious for erecting walls of secrecy, hard numbers are difficult to come by, and most evidence is anecdotal. Still, it's clear that the adult industry has helped shape the Internet as we know it today, even if it has also been at the forefront of a number of less savory innovations. Let's take a look at a not-entirely-dirty dozen.

1. Nice: Online Payment Systems


The next time you buy something at Amazon or another online retailer, marvelling at the ease and security of e-commerce, don't just thank Jeff Bezos, thank Richard Gordon. In the mid-1990s Gordon founded Electronic Card Systems, which pioneered credit card transactions for a wide range of disreputable sites, according to the New York Times.

"While riches were being minted and squandered in the dotcom '90s, Gordon made a fortune by taking a commission for processing sales on a range of sites... like ClubLove, which published the Pamela Anderson-Tommy Lee sex tape," wrote the Times' Brad Stone. (Through his lawyer, Gordon officially denies having been involved with pornography, but Stone found more than a dozen current and former employees who suggested otherwise.)

According to Forrester Research, web users spent about $1.3bn on online porn in 1999. That represented about 8 percent of all Net commerce that year, and more money than people spent online on books or plane tickets. Back then, it was the internet's leading industry. By 2006, however, Net porn was generating just $2.8bn in revenues - a much smaller piece of the online pie, which had grown to $150 to $200bn.

Richard Gordon also owns a web design firm that created sites for the American Bible Society - or at least it did so until Stone contacted the ABS last May - proving that Gordon could swing both ways.


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