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Google’s Matt Cutts want to know more about sex.

I hadn’t realized it until a couple of days ago, but Comstock Films had a celebrity visitor comment on my Will Google Kill Comstock Films post of a few days ago.

Matt Cutts is the head of Google’s webspam team, and if you spend any time surfing around the SEO-osphere, you’ll see his name come up rather frequently. Since that comment, Matt and I have had a bit of correspondence about sex on the internet

12.28.06

Dear Tony,

I worked on Google’s SafeSearch filter years ago, so I know that distinguishing between the “good porn” sites compared to the “regular porn” sites is a hard
problem. I used to be able to reel off names like Jane’s Guide, Persian Kitty, The Hun, Greenguy, Luke Ford, etc. These days I haven’t worked on porn-related stuff in years, so I’m less familiar with the space compared to how I used to be.

In fact, I’d be curious to hear your take on what several the highest-quality porn-related sites would be these days. I’m familiar with stuff like fleshbot.com or nerve.com, but less so with sites like tiny nibbles or erosblog.com. If it sounds like a lot of work for an email, you could also do it as a blog post. I’d be curious to hear what some of the leading lights are in the porn industry these days, and I’d be able to point a few people at it to make sure that we work on distinguishing higher-quality sites from run-of-the-mill sites.

Dear Matt,

I’m no expert, but it’s hard for me to image what sort of algorithm would be able to distinguish the highly entertaining, very intelligent, but often utterly filthy Pretty Dumb Things (apparently still in the Google penalty box) from run-of-the-mill sites that use similar language in similar quantities, and even in similar, but tremendously less artful ways. That’s not just my opinion either. An interview with the site’s author will be appearing in next week’s edition of The New York Observer, one of Gotham’s most influential weekly papers.

Perhaps that’s why Jane’s, Persian Kitty, etc were successful. Maybe distinguishing run of the mill filth from quality smut takes the human touch. Of course that’s not perfect either. In spite of each of our films taking prizes at film festival, including non-erotic film festivals, Jane has yet to bestow her Quality seal on ComstockFilms.com

In any case, I will give it some thought and see what ideas bubble up. If nothing else, your and apparently google’s ignorance of Violet Blue is a place to start. With nearly a dozen well-loved and best selling books about various aspects of sexuality to her credit, I’d rate her as probably the most authoritative, respected, and independent sex writers on the internet.

12.30.08

Dear Matt,

My wife and I have been hashing this around for the last few days, and some thoughts are starting to coalesce. A couple of things:

The sex industry is, if not actually dominated by, at least characterized by businesses which make their margin by *not* giving people what’s been promised (There is no sex in the champaign room.) By and large, this is possible because of the shame that surrounds sex.

From the outside, the core of Googles core business would seem to be Relevance. Perhaps value-laden taxonomies, like “good porn” vs. “regular porn” are not a useful way to parse the sexual content of the internet. Rather than “distinguishing higher-quality sites from run-of-the-mill sites” perhaps the challenge is to distinguish sexually oriented sites that are what they say they are and offer what they say they offer, from those site that are not and do not. (There is no sex in the champagne room.)

Up until recently, my vision of Google has been a rack of yellow pizzabox CPUs. I have, since my initial post, become substantially more educated about the inner workings of Google (in light of my ignorance, this is not a strong statement,) and have come to realize that I had substantially underestimated the importance of Google’s human assets.

With that in mind, I’d point you to the Boing Boing post in which Violet Blue offers, “I’m guessing that whoever might’ve tested their sex searches didn’t know the difference between Comstock Films and your average skanky porn film site.” Laying aside “skanky” (which is hardly a value-neutral descriptor,) being able to distinguish between Comstock Films, Vivid Video, Evil Angel, Bang Bus, and a TGP link farm would seem to be a key component of producing relevant search results.

As to your question about my take high-quality porn related sites, I don’t know that I’m the person to ask. I have a vitriolic hatred of nearly all porn, both what is produced and how it’s produced. I take my inspiration from the new generation of sex toy makers (Vixen Creations, Njoy Toys, Fun Factory). They make their money by offering well made products, sold honestly. This approach would bankrupt most porn companies inside of a month.

But I do understand what you’re getting at, clean sites, trusted sites in the community, and all that. With that in mind, via my blog I’d like to open up your question my readers and our community. While some of them might enjoy jacking off to Bang Bus (yuck!), none of them like being ripped off or led astray. If Google is truly interested in delivering relevant search results in this area of inquiry, there’s a wealth of knowledge that can be tapped.

Dear Tony,

I think it would be a great question to open up to your blog. Maybe a good way to do it would be to ask people what their favorite three sex-industry sites are? I’m guessing that you would also be able to use your industry knowledge to prune the lamer suggestions for sites that don’t add value in some way (e.g. deleting cookie-cutter sites that don’t have any original content or links, and only exist to shunt people somewhere to make money).

I’d be curious to see what sex sites people really valued.

—-

It would seem that Comstock Films has caught, or at least been caught up in the Zeitgeist. Just yesterday on my post Google Fails When Language Fails, Part 2 I quoted a Times Online article about a theoretical wiki-based challenger to Google’s algorithm-based approach. Then just this morning I see there’s a Q&A With Jimmy Wales On Search Wikia, the same fellow quoted in the Times Online article I posted. The human touch seems to be the topic de jour in search.

Meanwhile, whether you subscribe to the Google Porn Purge point of view, or the It’s Happened to Other Industries and It’s Just a Bug point of view, it’s pretty clear that something’s amiss in the High House of Search.

An overly aggressive algorithm when it comes to sexual language, especially sexual colloquial language is certainly an explanation for how sites like TinyNibbles.com, Pretty Dumb Things, or our own Comstock Films could ever be mistaken for spam sites. The implications of that spin off in all manner of troubling directions.

Alternately, if it’s Merely A Bug, and this happens all the time in other industries, the implications of that aren’t particularly reassuring either. (Especially not, if like me, you’re holding Google stock.)

Some of you might be old enough to remember it was human indexing that made Yahoo such a useful tool in the early days of the internet. (I’m not bragging, but back in day, two of Peggy’s projects go the Yahoo Sunglasses of Cool.) Of course the internet exploded, overwhelming Yahoo’s human indexing capability, and pretty soon the only way to get listed on Yahoo was to pay them, completely devaluing Yahoo’s listings, and opening the door for Google.

I’ll confess, my faith in Google has been, shall we say, a little naive. You won’t even find meta-tags on Comstock Films, because I always figured that with the crunching power of those millions and millions of yellow pizzaboxes, *actual* content would count for more than meta-content. We’ll be adding meta-data ASAP, but it looks like we’re a little late to that party.

If Jimmy Wales is to be believed, actually human beings actually looking at webpages is the wave of the future. Will “Real People, Real Search, Real Results” be the tagline of the company that displaces Google? (More importantly, if it comes to pass, how will Comstock Films fare in this new order?)

Meanwhile, Comstock Films’ google ranking on our core search terms has crashed again, this even time worse than before. In some cases so low I quit clicking to the next page when I saw we were out ranked by zoophilia sites. (That’s people having sex with animals.)

Does the googlebot really think that people searching ‘couples porn’ are looking for pictures of women getting fucked by horses? I’m not ready to take a short position, but I do think I’m ready to sell half and look for other opportunities.

And oh yeah, Matt’s question looks like it just begging to be my first ever blog meme:

What are your three indespensible sex URLs and why? Me?

Violet Blue’s Tiny Nibbles
As far as I’m concerned, Violet is the internet’s most passionate voice for sex being treated in an intelligent, adult and fun-loving way.

Adult DVD Talk
ADT is giant repository of viewer-written reviews of all sorts of porn, erotica, and adult films (pick the name you like). I rarely read them. I am, however, addicted to hang out in the ADT Discusion Forums. Purile enough to make things fun, smart enough to keep things interesting.

Blowfish.com
It’s where I shop when I want something new to shove up my ass.

Your turn, Matt. And everyone else too!

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6 Comments

  1. Posted December 31, 2006 at 9:00 am | Permalink

    Thank you, TC, for including us on your short list. I think the easiest way for Google to get rid of the junk results is to allow users to say “don’t show me this site/domain ever again” on any search result. Then humans would be doing the filtering and I wouldn’t need to wade thru the junk to find the quality sites. I find this is a problem in whatever type of search (travel as much as porn.)

    Allowing users to tag sites with keywords (like the many blog search engines) would also diminish the power of seo companies spam tactics.

  2. Posted December 31, 2006 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

    A suggestion for a new data point in determining a “quality” adult site:

    Has the site labeled itself through ICRA or some other industry-standard metadata/server-side content labeling system? I’ve been involved in the retail products end of the adult internet since early 1998. As a general rule the more responsible businesses do everything they can to keep minors away from their sites. Properly labeling a site so that content filters can do their jobs is the responsible thing to do.

    If Googlebot is indexing a site with a high percentage of phrases like “cum gargling crumbastaphiles”, “double anal whores”, “A cum sucking whore named…”, “Join Now”, “Click to buy”, etc., and the site isn’t content-labeled then that is something that I think could (should?) be taken into consideration for search ranking.

    These kinds of suggestions eventually lead into “slippery-slope” discussions of mandatory labels and government regulations, etc.

    I also think little things like claiming a site in Google’s Webmaster tools should account for some small level of credibility (or lack thereof) for an adult site. I assume the spam sites won’t claim their sites for various reasons. Maybe this is an incorrect assumption but I don’t think so. Spammers want to stay under the radar not proclaim the spam as their own.

    We try to run a quality site at ADT. In the roughly 7 years we’ve been online we’ve turned away hundreds of potential advertisers that didn’t meet our quality guidelines. That’s not something that you can program into a search engine algorithm but we do have a unique perspective on which adult DVD retail websites operate in an honest and ethical fashion based on our own business dealings with them and feedback from the shoppers that use our services.

    Here’s three recommendations for quality businesses in the adult DVD retail sector: adultdvdempire.com, xrentdvd.com and bushdvd.com. These three companies are class acts and constantly improve their sites to the benefit of their customers.

  3. tony
    Posted December 31, 2006 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    RE: IRCA

    I went to their site and started catagorizing Comstock Films, but as I recall two questions brought me up short. One was about “artistic merit” and the other was about “educational value”.

    Our films have been called both, repeatedly and from a variety of sources. But I was afraid if I said our site was both artistic and education that I would ultimately be labeled fraudulalent by IRCA and incur some penalty.

    What I ended up doing was nothing, counting on the fact that our site plainly is what it is, that the generous use of colloquial sex language would be more than enough to tip off any “safe surfing” filter that our site is not for children.

    Add into that mix the fact more than a few educators have said that our films would, with proper guidence, be appropriate and useful in teaching youth about the role of emotions in sexual relationships.

    It all gets very confusing.

  4. Posted December 31, 2006 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

    I’m glad you posted this. I’ll answer, not with my preferences mind you, but in the spirit of “a short list of sites I’d consider important that are sex-related, and that I’d worry if you couldn’t find with Google.”

    Susie Bright’s site.
    Jane’s Guide.
    McStories.
    For sheer entertainment value, I’d go with Ali Davis’ True Porn Clerk Stories.

    On the commerce side, if we didn’t return Good Vibes or Adam & Eve or Xandria when people requested them, I’d be a little worried.

    But as I mentioned, I haven’t kept up with the porn area since I worked on SafeSearch. I’m curious to read the must-see list from more experts. :)

  5. Posted January 1, 2007 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

    I agree with Drew Black; there has to be some kind of *behavior* which would differentiate a spam site from a legit one. Spammers (who tend to set up sites in bulk) probably wouldn’t register their site with Webmaster Tools, or Google Analytics, or stuff like that. So anything in there you could probably Whitelist as “Not Spam”; or at least give it higher credibility than sites that haven’t done this.

    Also, you can leverage authority to some degree. If we can objectively say that Fleshbot, Tiny Nibbles, and other sites are okay – then we can reasonably suppose that any sites they link to won’t be spam (and probably, any sites that linked to from those sites).

    Human beings are very good at discerning spam from not spam: I’d wager that if you mapped it, you’d find a lot of legit sites linking to other legit sites, and a lot of spam sites linking to spam sites, and not too much reciprocal linking between those two groups. (I imagine the spam sites would try to link to the real ones, but the real ones wouldn’t link back).

    Google should have other data as well it can use; the number of subscriptions in Google Reader, the nascent bookmarking service, etc. I’d think that this kind of data is the next logical step in search anyway.

  6. Posted January 1, 2007 at 6:33 pm | Permalink

    I think it would also be great if “quality” adult sites could participate in innovative programs like Google’s Co-op Subscribed links (http://www.google.com/coop/docs/guide_subscribed_links.html) which would enable Google to directly score a sites relative “trust”. Unfortunately adult sites are not allowed to participate per the Terms of Service. I wouldn’t expect or encourage adult sites to ever be listed in the Subscribed Links Directory (http://www.google.com/coop/subscribedlinks/directory/Latest ) .

3 Trackbacks

  1. By SlutBoy.org on December 31, 2006 at 8:40 am

    Google Me This!…

    One of my favorite porn producers, Tony Comstock, has some interesting ideas about the intersection of Google and sex:The sex industry is, if not actually dominated by, at least characterized by businesses which make their margin by *not* giving people…

  2. [...] In an e-mail to Matt Cutts, I wrote: [...]

  3. [...] It’s clear by reading this post that Google absolutely does not have the tools — or current knowledge — to evaluate sex on the web. And possibly a lot of other things as well. This is how they do it? Really? They need a community liaison for each of the types of spam they’re expected to deal with, because it’s crystal clear they are in the dark. [...]

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