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Net porn loses its wires

Though images can appear so grainy a reposing nude looks like a duck's webbed foot, the popularity of porn on wireless devices is surprising analysts.

Patrick McAdam's wireless porn empire began during a lunch last autumn when he and friends debated whether WAP would ever take off.

The point McAdam tried to make in between bites of a sandwich was that the wireless Web needs a "killer WAP" with mass-market appeal. "Sex was the obvious answer," the 36-year-old father of two said.

He launched his first wireless porn site that afternoon. Two months later, his hobby grew into a 93-site empire, with a total of about 1 million hits. He makes more money from the sites, where he sells sex toys and offers links to sex chat lines, than he does at his regular job running a 100-person IT division.

"I couldn't believe it," he said, not even trying to stifle a giggle. "Yesterday was a world record day for me. The day before that as well, and the day before. It just keeps going up."

McAdam is just one of the entrepreneurs flooding the wireless Web with porn sites, many built using free Web hosting from sites such as TagTag. With an estimated audience of 1 million viewers, a number that has taken analysts by surprise, McAdam is helping porn's rush onto the wireless Web where images can appear so grainy a reposing nude looks like a duck's webbed foot.

Six of the 13 most trafficked mobile Web sites last week, as monitored by Alloutwap.com, are sex sites. The sites outrank the wireless Web locations for Worldwide Wrestling Federation's mobile entry, two Nokia sites and Britney Spears, who was the No. 1 search term in 2000 at portals Yahoo and Lycos yet isn't even in the top 20 on the wireless side.

Next month, wireless porn gets its first big-name player. Penthouse will begin offering its own selections to wireless users, the company has announced.

When porn started appearing on wireless Web sites in July 2000 analysts thought the same audience used to the terrestrial Web's offerings of color pictures, moving images and thousands of pictures, all for free, would never migrate to the tiny screen.

Yet the audience now ranks in the millions. One wireless porn portal, Sinpalm.com, says it has 5,000 wireless customers.

"Porn is one of the few kinds of content where people will put up with lousy content and still pay something to get access," Jupiter Research analyst Joe Laszlo said. "It's a very old song. The second thing printed after Guttenberg's bible was porn. The first thing available for rent on videotape was porn.

"The key advantage to a mobile device is you don't have to be in the privacy of your home to get access," Laszlo said. "These are devices you use in public places, so it might make people more apprehensive to look at nude photos."

While many businesses are still scratching their heads about how to get mobile, the earliest of the earliest adopters, the porn industry, has taken notice.

They've made it relatively easy for the likes of McAdam to add access to sex chat lines off wireless Web sites. McAdam said it took just a handful of phone calls to such companies before he struck a deal in which he collects 25 percent of the chat line revenue.

He's also added access to sex shops. That was a little more difficult, he admits. He said there were more than 14 calls needed to lure a client.

But there have been some negatives. McAdam posted a way for people to advertise for free on the sites. He was prepared to post only the tamest ones. It was to generate a little more traffic. Surprisingly, he said, there were absolutely no takers.

Dirty little secret
Some within the wireless industry have taken notice of porn's growth on the wireless Web and are trying to coax service providers into some kind of action before regulators decide to step in.

"Porn is a dirty little secret that people aren't talking about," said independent analyst Alan Reiter, who is convening a round-table discussion on wireless porn at next week's CTIA Wireless 2001 annual trade show.

One group, Safe Surf, is among those concerned about the prevalence of wireless porn sites. They say sites are too easily viewed by children and teenagers, some of whom may even be creating the pages. It now wants to rate wireless Web sites the same way movies are rated for content.

The idea bombed on the wired Internet, but it was also introduced when there were nearly a billion Web pages--far too many to add ratings to. But the wireless Web is still young, with just a comparative handful of sites. A rating system wouldn't be too late to implement, according to Safe Surf's thinking.

"The industry needs to learn to deal with these issues before they become problems," Reiter said.