Do Porn Sites Need .XXX Web Domain?

Internet porn sites may soon have the option to move off the ".com" main street of the Web to their very own adult-only domain: ".xxx." But industry experts say the adult world is divided over whether or not there is actually a need for a dedicated virtual red-light district.

The Internet Corp. for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), an international Internet oversight group, announced Friday that it would proceed with a proposal to register ".xxx," after rejecting the same application three years ago.

Peter Dengate Thrush, chairman of ICANN's board of directors, told ABCNews.com that the board had previously rejected the .xxx proposal by ICM Registry, LLC because of disagreement over whether or not a community of adult content providers backed the proposal.

One of ICANN's application requirements is that a community sponsors each proposal, and he said, "There was doubt about the size and strength of the community. And the commitment to the process."

ICANN Reverses Decision, Moves Ahead With .XXX Domain

But after an outside panel reviewed ICANN's 2007 decision, its board ruled today to reverse its decision to block the .xxx suffix and proceed with the process.

Thrush said there are still several steps to complete before the .xxx domain is ready for use, but he added that if everything moves quickly, the process could be completed in six to eight months, though it could take longer.

Still, Stuart Lawley, president of ICM Registry, is confident that the .xxx domain will ultimately reach the Web.

"I think there is almost zero chance of this not happening," he said, adding that the volume of requests to reserve Web addresses "is going up by the minute."

He said that as of Thursday he'd taken about 110,000 reservations, and overnight received 2,000 more. By the time the registry launches, he said he expects the number of registrations to reach 500,000.

According to his research, there are about 5 or 6 million adult sites on the Internet and, if all goes well, he said he could potentially capture 2 to 3 million of them over time.

Adult-Only Domain Could Help Parents Filter Content, Advocate Says

Though Lawley charges $60 to register a .xxx site, rather that the the $10 charged for generic .com sites, he said he hopes to convince adult content providers that his domain names can draw more traffic.

He said the .xxx sites will adhere to a higher code of conduct in terms of dealing with customer data and keeping sites free of malicious content.

He also said there would be a benefit to families that want to block adult content from kids, as the .xxx domain ensures more effective filtering. The uncommon domain also decreases the chance of children or others just stumbling on to a pornographic site.

For adult content providers, that means "more customers visiting on a more regular basis and feeling more confident to spend money on those sites," he said. "Over a period of five or 10 years… we hope it will become the preferred domain of choice for the adult industry."

Industry Divided Over Value of .XXX

But industry observers say owners of adult sites are split over whether or not the Internet change is a positive one.

"There are two different camps. The kind of business folks who look at every opportunity as a business opportunity and those who are very … protective of the potential 'ghettoization' of the industry," said Alec Helmy, president and publisher of XBiz, an adult industry news outlet.

He said some skeptics worry that creating a .xxx domain could make it possible for governments to require adult sites to use the dedicated suffix and then potentially block them all at will.

Others say adopting a .xxx domain in a .com world will make it harder for potential customers to find adult sites of interest.

"It's a hot topic on the various message boards," Helmy said. "The value proposition of the .xxx -- is this something that the industry needs, or is it just some other way for another entity to make money?"

But even as the debate rages on, he said it appears that the big names in the industry are registering their names on the .xxx domain as a precautionary measure to protect their brands and future real estate.

Even Critics Could Ultimately Adopt .XXX

"If you're Playboy I think you would want to register Playboy.xxx [before] some Joe Schmoe," he said.

Though he doesn't see .xxx replacing .com, he said that as the .xxx proposal progresses, he expects even critics to come on board.

"The way the media has covered the latest development is that this is on the way to being approved," he said. "If it does, I think a good proportion of those who are opponents would probably find one way or another to protect their brands by registering domain names. If you can't beat it, join it."

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