Porn Leads Tech, Again

OnlyFans

OnlyFans (OF) announced that—for business reasons—it was going to ban sexually explicit content. Five days later, the company reversed its decision. Luckily, this article isn’t about their decision-making process… it’s about how you might build an alternative app.

Upon hearing the original news, millions of users (creators and subscribers) suddenly cried out in terror as they realized that OF was going the way of Tumblr (which is probably why OF revered its decision). At the same time, half the engineers on the planet stopped what they were doing to contemplate how they could rearrange their lives to code an uncensored app to take OF’s place. Porn leads tech. It always has, it always will. Which raised the question, what would a successor app look like under the hood? Let’s play pretend.

A Direct Copy

By far the easiest thing to do is to build a direct clone of OF and leave it uncensored. This is child’s play. Big porn dominates the online porn landscape. (xvideos.com and pornhub.com are the 9th and 10th most popular websites in the world.) It can easily use existing tech to accommodate the creators that OF is abandoning. But wait. What if OF creators don’t want to be associated with the porn industry? That’s a marketing problem with several easy solutions. The tech is the tech.

A Direct Copy Plus

Another approach would be to do a direct knockoff of the app, but add a token (cryptocurrency) component so that users could anonymously or pseudonymously participate and profit from the value they create. I’m not sure why OF didn’t just do this. It would have been a future-thinking approach to solving their problem, and while not a guarantee, trying and failing at a DeFi solution is probably preferable to Tumblr-ing into obscurity. It’s easy to imagine a centralized app with an associated centralized cryptocurrency schema that would yield a fungible, freely exchangeable store of value.

A Web 3.0 Solution

This is where it gets interesting. Web 3.0 apps are nontrivially different from Web 2.0 apps (Learn about it here). While there is no agreed-upon definition of Web 3.0, a next -generation Dapp (decentralized app) might include some of the following attributes:

No central servers—by definition, a Dapp (website/app) will be a peer-to-peer application built on a blockchain. So, content will not be “served” from an IP address; content will have an ID and be stored on a plurality of nodes across the network. In theory, this means a successful Dapp with thousands of nodes and millions of users can’t be shut down. In practice, the number of users determines the Dapp’s fate.

Uncensored content—because there is no central authority, there is no one to censor the content. The community of users could (in theory) set community guidelines, but since this Dapp would be purpose-built, one can assume there would be no mechanism to censor any content. What about child porn, misinformation, hate speech, or other generally banned content? Nope. Uncensored means uncensored.

Immutable content—In theory, content on a Dapp is immutable. Once created, content is given an immutable ID (as opposed to an IP address). In practice, you need to create special workflows to edit and update content. Dynamic content also requires some engineering gymnastics. But these technical hurdles all have workarounds, and the tools get better every day. Can you ever delete content from a peer-to-peer network? No. You can mask it (sort of), but once content is out in the wild, it will live as long as it is available on at least one client/server node.

Self-sovereign identity (SSI)—In theory, users could use some form of SSI schema to limit the data collected by the Dapp. This is a noble goal and one of the areas where porn has led tech in the past. There aren’t many people who want their significant others to see “pornhub.com” on their credit card statements. And no one wants to learn that their porn-viewing history and login credentials are available on WikiLeaks.

Utility tokens and a reward system—In theory, creators can become validator nodes in a proof-of-stake (POS) token minting ecosystem and be rewarded with a token for validating transactions on the network. (There are many other schemas and approaches to mining and minting tokens; learn more here.) Subscribers could also be validator nodes and could be rewarded for validating transactions or for exhibiting certain behaviors, such as amount of view hours, or help with recruiting new users, etc. The tokens might even be able to be listed on centralized exchanges such as Coinbase, FTX, or Kraken, and even be exchangeable for fiat currencies. In practice, because centralized exchanges are subject to Know Your Customer (KYC) and other business rules, it is unlikely that these tokens would be listed. However, these tokens would be a fungible store of value, and they would be exchangeable for other tokens (cryptocurrencies), including stablecoins, on DEXs (decentralized exchanges).

Will Any of This Happen?

The fate of OnlyFans is still unclear. It may survive and thrive. It may go the way of Tumblr. Time will tell. The important thing here is that there are several different approaches to replacing the void its “business decision” would have created. This was not true two years ago. Back then, any replacement app would have to have been created as a technological copy of OF, and because of the intersection of technology and business rules, any replacement app would have been subject to the same “business reasons” for OF’s decision to ban sexually explicit content. This is no longer the case. Any new version of OF can take advantage of a completely new way to create and share value. Will DeFi help porn lead tech once again? History says it will.

 

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Author’s note: This is not a sponsored post. I am the author of this article and it expresses my own opinions. I am not, nor is my company, receiving compensation for it. I am not a financial advisor. Nothing contained herein should be considered financial advice. If you are considering any type of investment you should conduct your own research and, if necessary, seek the advice of a licensed financial advisor.

About Shelly Palmer

Shelly Palmer is a business advisor and technology consultant. He helps Fortune 500 companies with digital transformation, media and marketing. Named LinkedIn's Top Voice in Technology, he is the host of the Shelly Palmer #strategyhacker livestream and co-host of Techstream with Shelly Palmer & Seth Everett. He covers tech and business for Good Day New York, writes a weekly column for Adweek, is a regular commentator on CNN and CNBC, and writes a popular daily business blog. Follow @shellypalmer or visit shellypalmer.com

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