This place is quiet. Too quiet. There's been talk of shady characters in the Valley. It's getting so you don't know who you can trust. They say the folks up by the Los Angeles River can't get enough bandwidth. Don't you fret, sister: Porn Posse will get your traffic back and keep your content safe from the rustlers.
Let's go back a little. The romantic notion of the rough and ready American West was rooted in the relatively short period between Reconstruction and William McKinley's election, at which point the buffalo were gone, the natives were reserved, and the idea of pavement was coming into vogue. The Iron Horse brought financial stability where gold could not, and the frontier was tamed.
Flash forward a hundred-odd years to the frontier of Porn Valley, a wild, dusty, and sunblighted place where folks still muse about the Golden Age, a decade-long stretch when everyone was in it for the adventure, loyalty was prized, and a feller's word was his bond. Folks helped each other because the law couldn't be trusted. At least that's what you'll hear in the sepia-toned recollections of the old-timers. That's why many in this business cultivate an outlaw mentality, especially when it's looking like John Q. Law might be riding into town again.
Unlike their mainstream counterparts, the larger and smaller captains of this industry are much closer to the people on whose backs their money is made, and sometimes the effective running of a bottom-line-driven business suffers as a result.
Enter some masked dudes.
I met with the three principals of Porn Posse ("the preeminent force multiplier for the adult Webmaster") in Los Angeles.
"The adult space needed an injection of mainstream business practices," said co-founder Johnny V., who likens Porn Posse to good-guy lawmen Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday. "The perception of the adult industry is this seething snakepit of nastiness. That's not entirely true, but enough so that people are defensive."
Porn Posse brokers deals between small and large Internet entities, fostering relationships between content and bandwidth providers, providing auditing services, NetCheck transaction processing, and NSF retrieval, offering membership in a porn buyers' collective known as the Adult Co-Op, and introducing a revolutionary closed-room peer-to-peer file sharing system called FileSwing wherein clients control content but subscribers can swap files - and be financially rewarded for their participation.
Johnny V. and partner Alan Edgett founded Porn Posse last year as a subsidiary of their company I-Bridge International, which is like a Blind-And-We-Like-It-That-Way dating service for mainstream firms and adult companies. Mainstream Company X will offer commodities like legal services and hosting to Porn Company Y with the innocuous-sounding I-Bridge as the go-between.
Client Mark Rhino of Flash Cash believes Porn Posse has what it takes. "Their contacts both inside and outside the industry are unparalleled, and their reputation with those contacts is always outstanding. "
"The little Webmaster doesn't trust the sponsors and the big vendors don't know the little guys," said Edgett, who met Van Arnam while the former was an analyst at Akamai and Van Arnam was doing transaction processing for an adult company. "We level the playing field as a trusted intermediary."
Rhino agrees. "This position as ?respected third party' has allowed them to facilitate many profitable deals for Flash Cash which otherwise simply would not have happened."
One way Porn Posse does this is through ClickTruth, an auditing and traffic management program that monitors vendors and provides reports to clients, like a Price-Waterhouse-Coopers for the porno set. ClickTruth provides robust stats that you would get with any reputable hosting company but also ensures that traffic is going through unshaved. It is a contract among all parties involved and provides peace of mind along with a standard management tool.
The third member of the Porn Posse triumvirate is Halcyon Styn, a high school friend of Edgett's from San Diego and an Internet community builder. Arriving on the I-Bridge scene six months into its life, Styn was instrumental in filling the remaining gaps in the personalized approach that would become Porn Posse's calling card. His numerous Websites (check out Globalgasm.com, where Webcammed masturbators attempt a harmonic convergence, or HugNation.com, where - oh, just do it) are a testament to the Posse's assertion that they have nothing to hide, they're here to help, and this is all going to be a lot of fun.
Styn seems to hold the post of Creative Visionary within the group. He heads the design team for Porn Posse's simple but effective Website and, with his revolving-hued hair, adds a non-spitting John Lydon feel to Van Arnam's A Man Apart-vintage Vin Diesel contemplative badassery and Edgett's ... well, Edgett looks like a normal guy. But you've got to have someone who can handle a calculator.
The three faces of Porn Posse, as its principals attest, reflect that "Hal is the guy you like, John is the guy you trust, and Alan is the guy you can do business with," though all spend about 90 percent of their days on the phone, hammering out deals in and around their L.A. office.
Another friendly, trustworthy, and altogether practical service of Porn Posse's is the Toolboxxx, a locally-loaded resource area for site subscribers. It is a device designed to keep traffic within a client's domain that would normally require a clickthrough.
Porn Posse knew that winning over adult entrepreneurs would not be easy. Many insiders feel that mainstream's incursions into the insular world of porn are patronizing, but Edgett and Johnny V. are quick to point out that they have years of experience in both worlds. "We can't just come into a space and do business," Edgett says, adding that, in porn, "you have to make friends first and do business later."
As our high school civics teachers told us, there's always a reason behind a recurrent theme. "People are always amazed that we represent the business side of things but that they can trust us," Johnny V. says. He is reluctant to draw a conclusion about the business side of the porn industry, particularly the adult Internet, but notes that Porn Posse, as a facilitator, mediator, and an old-fashioned transaction processor, is not in competition with any of its clients.
Johnny V. worked for several years in the Sales department of a large adult content provider, which gave him the inside scoop on the industry but also provided the motivation to do the job better outside of that environment. "There will always be an adult Internet," he says, "as long as there are guys with computers. It's not something that will go away in 18 months so companies can get away with no accountability - "
Edgett adds, "the ideas of auditing, transparency in your dealings, and legitimate business practices, rather than cheating today and seeing what you can get away with - "
Johnny V. concludes, " - means that our clients know we're in business for the long term with them; that we're staying around."
It's hard not to like all these guys, even if you're supposed to trust one and do business with the other. They represent a new generation of entrepreneurs who don't have the baggage of having their sets raided by the cops and who don't automatically throw out the mainstream baby (professional business strategies) with the mainstream bathwater (outsiders who blush at naked ladies).
"We take the outlaw mentality and put a tuxedo on it," Styn says.
Come January 2004 we'll be in another wild west town, Las Vegas, where Porn Posse will be taking part in Internext's Newbie Panel, trying to blend the adult Internet's outlaw sensibility with some buttoned-down mainstream business knowhow.
They want you to make more money with your dirty pictures.
"It's the Gold Rush," Johnny V. says, "and we get to be the guys handing out shovels."
Marty Barrett divides his time between writing for and being a technology consultant to the entertainment industry. As Gram Ponante, he edited AVN.com. He lives in Los Angeles at www.martybarrett.net.