Thank Sex For Making The Internet Hot Online shopping, chat rooms, streaming video — guess what pioneered these technologies for the mainstream Web.
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Thank Sex For Making The Internet Hot

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Thank Sex For Making The Internet Hot

Thank Sex For Making The Internet Hot

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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GUY RAZ, host:

For the past few months, we featured a series here on the program called "The Net at 40." It's where we talk about the history and the culture of the Internet. Forty years since the first computer-to-computer communication.

And we've talked about domain names and bulletin board systems, the creation of email, everything except for

(Soundbite of elephant)

TRAVIS LARCHUK: The elephant in the room.

RAZ: Ladies and gentlemen, he's back in the studio with us, one of our producers, Travis Larchuk.

Travis, tell us what the elephant in the room is.


RAZ: I thought so. Is that my cue to make a parental warning?

LARCHUK: Yes, and if my parents are listening, Mom, now would be a great time to pull out that Three Tenors CD, pop it in, maybe kick back for the next few minutes and just go away.

RAZ: All right. Hopefully, she'll do that. All right, so sex on the Internet.

LARCHUK: Right, so to understand how we got to where we are today, I called up this guy named Peter Acworth. He founded this Web site

RAZ: That sounds like it's going to be a not-safe-for-work moment.

LARCHUK: Well, it depends where you work, I guess. Anyway, it was back in the late 1990s, and Peter Acworth was working on a Ph.D. in finance at Columbia University. He was trying to figure out what to do with his life, and so he turned to the Internet.

Mr. PETER ACWORTH (Founder, All I could find that was of interest -to me, at any rate - was pornography. I remember Yahoo! which was the biggest search engine at the time by far, used to publish a page which listed the top user search terms. And I remember some large number of search terms were sexually related.

LARCHUK: And he had this eureka moment.

RAZ: Hang on, he got his Ph.D. in finance at Columbia University, and he became an Internet porn kingpin?

LARCHUK: Well, he actually dropped out of Columbia because he realized this is where the money is, and he founded this Web site,, and basically turned it into this cutting-edge porn empire. And he even ended up developing his own in-house engineering department because the pace that technology was developing at just wasn't fast enough for him.

RAZ: Well, what kind of technology?

LARCHUK: Well, we'll get to that in a few minutes but first, I know you buy a lot of stuff online.

RAZ: Almost everything.

LARCHUK: Well, the people who pioneered e-commerce were basically pornographers, and I called up this guy, Jonathan Coopersmith, who is not a pornographer. He is a technology historian and a professor at Texas A&M.

Dr. JONATHAN COOPERSMITH (Associate Professor, History; Technology Historian, Texas A&M): The first part of the Web to make money was pornography.

LARCHUK: And that's because back in the early days of the Internet, pornographers were first in line, adopting new technology to do things like encrypt credit card information, basically making it safe to buy stuff online.

Dr. COOPERSMITH: You have a lot of - some of the tactics, concepts and business strategies pioneered by the cybersex world that then flowed into the regular online world - you know, for instance, creating these Web sites where you join for a fee. Also, the cybersex industry has been very active in trying to reduce credit card fraud.

RAZ: Kind of a public service.

LARCHUK: And it's not just about commerce. They also played a big part in other innovations that we use every day. Just think back to the early days of the Internet.

Dr. COOPERSMITH: You had to have the hookup. You had to have the computer. You had to have the willingness to experiment a fair amount. And the people who do this tend to be young men, and this also happens to be a prime audience for pornography.

LARCHUK: So it's just like that song from that musical, "Avenue Q."

(Soundbite of song, "The Internet is for Porn")

Unidentified Man #1 (Actor): (As Trekkie Monster) (Singing) The Internet is for porn. The Internet is for porn.

LARCHUK: And the thing about this song is, it's kind of true. Up until a few years ago, porn sites got the most hits of anything on the Internet. And today, the biggest sites online, social networking sites like Facebook, a lot of the stuff that you can do on those sites helped make America Online number one back in the '90s and specifically, I'm talking about private chat rooms.

Dr. COOPERSMITH: One of the nicknames for AOL in the industry was the house that sex chat built.

LARCHUK: And a lot of the video technology that we use today that lets us watch clips or stream live video, a lot of that started out

RAZ: On porn sites.

LARCHUK: Exactly. You remember Peter Acworth, the guy?

RAZ: How could I forget?

LARCHUK: Well, a few years ago, his customers were saying they wanted to see live video in high-definition.

Mr. ACWORTH: So we put together our own technology essentially to be able to do so. You know, if you go to CNN or anywhere else on the Web, the video you're going to see there is at significantly lower bandwidth than that.

RAZ: So CNN is actually taking its cues from the adult entertainment industry?

LARCHUK: I don't know about that, but I was talking to Peter Acworth about where the adult industry is going next, and he was talking to me about, you know, "Avatar," it's the number one movie, and there's all this at-home 3-D technology coming out.

RAZ: I can see where this is going, Travis. I doubt James Cameron had that in mind.

LARCHUK: Well, maybe not, but it is possible, and we know who the early adopters will be.

RAZ: Indeed. That's one of our producers, Travis Larchuk.

Travis, thanks.

LARCHUK: No problem, Guy.

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