Commentary: How Xtube Ruined Me for Playboy

My first modem was a US Robotics V.90 56K. I was thirteen-years-old. The year was 1998. Connecting to the Internet required listening to a minute-long sequence of noises jarring enough to make the cavities in your teeth quiver; but from there on in you had access to the Internet. Between the hours of 3:30 p.m. and 5:00 p.m., access to the web was mine and mine alone, and for the precocious ninth-grader with nothing but time on his hands (sans the usual daily homework) there was only one viable solution on how to spend that time: surfing the web for Internet pornography.

Never did I have access to the Internet in my own home before, and for the naïve prepubescent that I was at the time, this meant the virtual pursuit of all things X-rated. In reality, however, cyberspace was a virtual wasteland, with browser windows inundated with pop-up ads, unbearable load times for jpegs and video clips, and overall utter chaos when it came to searching for 'useable' pornography. Slowly but surely, though, things got better; Internet speeds quickened, bandwidth increased, and more and more porn sites flooded the web, alongside their monthly subscription rates.

Since the invention of recorded video in the late seventies, the mass production of video pornography has led to proliferation of sex and the creation of an industry. While printed pornography was always situated in the realm of harmless fantasy, video pornography promised something else — a hyper-reality of sorts, making sex appear sexier than sex itself and allowing us to indulge our voyeuristic desires. Yet over the last decade or so we've seen a gradual shift in the way people view pornography. The mpeg has greatly replaced the tangible video and DVD, granted, but what we're seeing happen is far greater than simply a change in media platforms or a shift in visual technology. What we're seeing take place is a shift from 'professional' mainstream porn to the gritty realism of 'amateur' pornography, though not simply by virtue of its easy accessibility, as I'll soon explain.

Internet pornography as we know it today is more or less ordered chaos, and there's no shortage of sites out there for reliable, high-quality videos. Some of the more prominent sites include YouPorn, YouJizz, RedTube, Tube8, PornHub, FreeTube, Sex2ube, YouBoob, LubeTube, PornoTube, and NudeTube. It is clear that none of these sites would have existed without two very well-known sites. The first is obvious, 'YouTube,' because of its reliance on community participation for video content. The second (which many readers will likely disagree with me on) is Craigslist. In my opinion the epitome of web 1.0, Craigslist is primarily text-based and allows pictures no larger than 150K in size to be posted (as well as no videos whatsoever). While Craigslist is heavily community-based like YouTube, it was also one of the first sites on the Internet where people could not only send messages to one another, but could also help facilitate relationships, generate friendships, and, seemingly more often than not, hookup for sex.

Then one day, while aimlessly surfing the net, I discovered Xtube — and at this point don't really remember how I stumbled upon it. What makes this site incredibly unique (and addicting) is how it takes full advantage of everything Web 2.0 has to offer. These include:

  • The ability to social network through blogs and instant messaging
  • The ability for users to charge money for uploaded amateur content
  • The ability to view local adult directories as well as a free sex wiki
  • The ability to access assorted forums and message boards

Founded by Webnovas Technologies Inc. in 2005, the beta version of Xtube was launched on March 12, 2006. Essentially an adult video hosting service, Xtube was the first website to allow registered users as well as unregistered users the ability to share adult video content with others; largely piggybacking off the success of YouTube after its first year. Today, it has 4.5 million total members with eighty thousand people online at any given time. According to Alexa online, Xtube ranks number 249 on its annual list of most visited sites.

Call it a no-holds-bar adult virtual playground, where next-to-nothing is off limits. In fact the only subgenres of pornography that are strictly banned from the site (for obvious reasons) are child pornography, bestiality, incest, actual rape, extreme bondage, torture, and snuff. Prowl in the darkened alleyways of Xtube long enough however and you'll find just about anything including, but not limited to, felching, figging, docking, sounding, DP, scat, watersports, public nudity, voyeurism, humiliation, gangbangs, 69ing, and, of course, plain old garden-variety hardcore sex. All of these videos combined represent more than just the sum of its parts because, like it or not, Xtube represents our collective unconscious, our fears and desires, the lustful and the abhorrent — and denying its presence on the Internet only strengthens its hold on the user.

In October 2004, Chris Anderson published an article in Wired entitled 'The Long Tail' in which he described a change in business demographics with the emergence of companies like Amazon, Netflix, and iTunes. Believe it or not these companies don't make their profits on top bestselling books, CDs, and DVDs when compared to the hundreds of thousands of similar items that sell in smaller volumes. It is these hard-to-find items that make up the 'Long Tail' and the majority of these companies' profits, by sheer volume of choice and availability. So what does the 'Long Tail' have to do with Internet pornography in general? The answer is simple.

What we're seeing here is a fundamental shift in the way pornography is sold and stored — and if the studios don't wake up now and adapt their practices to compensate for this change they will quickly fall behind the curve.

This is the pornographic long tail. And for the pornography industry at large (including many prominent pornography sites on the web) fighting against it is an uphill battle.

Contrary to popular belief, this industry is not losing money because Xtube and its sister sites provide a depository for thousands upon thousands of free videos. It is because the majority of its content caters to the subgenres of pornography, those special niches, what we once may have called in the good old days 'fetishes.' And what it ultimately comes down to is this, for the individual after a couple of weeks on Xtube or YouPorn or one of a number of these video-sharing sites, it won't matter how many hot women are in Playboy or how barely legal the girls are in Penthouse, because the damage is already done. The camera is no longer in the grip of a handful of experienced pornographers but now remain in the hands of millions of wannabe auteurs. As long as major studios don't provide creative avenues for the public to express themselves visually, these sites will only grow in popularity, and the mainstream pornography industry as we know it today will collapse in on itself under its own weight.