Porn Goes Web 2.0?

Zivity.com tries to build a social-networking-style community with its popularity-driven sexy sweethearts

Internet porn may be cheap and hot, but it sure isn’t cutting edge. Pictures of sex, videos of sex, stories about sex: same old, same old. Luckily, Web 2.0 might be coming to the rescue. The open-ended movement that’s given us easy-to-use, community-based sites like Facebook and Flickr even has a few tricks for pornography. At least, that’s what the folks are hoping at a new site called Zivity.

Everyone from adult content fiends to Avenue Q puppets know that the internet is for porn. But according to tech experts like Wired.com’s Regina Lynn, the internet not only exists for porn, it exists because of it. The trouble these days, in Lynn’s opinion, is that the adult industry is lagging. Consuming porn on the internet is still a passive experience, says Lynn, and the recent Web 2.0 movement has passed over porn entirely. Even NPR posits that the adult content industry may be losing “its techno mojo.”

Enter Zivity. With a simple black background, pink sans serif font, and tastefully tantalizing banners, they’ve already turned the Web 2.0 aesthetic sexy. But Zivity is aiming for something higher: a community for beautiful women and their admirers—and it just might help resuscitate porn’s techno mojo in the process.

Zivity bills itself as “a reality media platform for sexy models,” but it’s essentially a site where women can post photos of themselves and get paid according to their popularity. The system works like this: for the right to peruse Zivity, members pay $10 a month. Every month’s subscription comes with five “points,” which members use to vote on their favorite photos. Then the points translate back into dollars. For every point a member gives a model’s photo, she gets 80 cents. So in effect, members determine how much each model makes.

Though Zivity itself is still in closed beta mode, the site is accepting applications for aspiring “sweethearts”—the theoretical crème de la crème of amateur models.

One part social-networking popularity contest (think Digg), two parts pin-up (think Suicide Girls), Zivity claims to want to foster fandom and togetherness—not porn-consuming anonymity. Though, to hear Public Relations Director Michelle Laird explain it, Zivity isn’t porn at all. Sure, its models may be partially, even totally nude. But there are no sex acts represented on the site, not even masturbation. Apparently, that’s a question of “tastefulness”—though it sounds more like a question of prude-ness, or worse, a question of censorship.

That’s not the only potential problem with Zivity. “The site welcomes off-center as well as unique body images,” says Laird. But since it’s the site’s mainstream male audience who’s purchasing power will decide which models succeed, things might get pretty, well mainstream. And what about male models? Laird says, at this point, there’s just no place for them on the site.

“We focus primarily on empowerment,” says Laird, “on women showing their ‘sexy’ selves and getting paid.” That’s great, but why not take the empowerment one step further and get comfy with the label “pornography”? Just because the term doesn’t sound like something you’d tell your mother you do for a living doesn’t mean it should be spun differently.

Whether or not Zivity is porn per se, it’ll be exciting to see what the site can do for adult content. Will it be the sexy new MySpace? Will it crash and burn? Does porn even lend itself to building a community? Zivity’s one-million-plus dollars in private investments sure seem to think so. There’s a chance the site might bloom with a little artistic sexual expression. Then again, there's also a chance that it could become little more than a pay-per-view Hot or Not. And we've already got a Web 2.0 version of that for free.

Previously: Tips for Touching and Typing

Click Me runs on villagevoice.com every Monday. Got a question about cybersex? Write to your friendly neighborhood cybersexpert Bonnie Ruberg for advice, info, or just to share stories about sex and the internet: bonnie [at] heroine-sheik [dot] com.

 
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