EMPAC EVENT

Porn industry’s implicit design explored

“They’re part of a $97 billion industry, whose revenues in the [United States] alone exceeds baseball, basketball, and football combined,” said Patrick Keilty, referencing the pornography industry in his talk, “Pornography’s Graphical Interface,” at the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center on Thursday.

Keilty, a researcher from the University of Toronto, guided a full room through the intricacies of the seemingly bad designs of pornography websites. These designs, however, are strategically designed to keep visitors engrossed, with the goal of increased time-on-site and revenue.

Most people are familiar with stereotypical porn website design. There’s an excess of information—images, text, banner advertisements, and GIFs are packed on the page. Keilty explained that these websites are strategically designed to “give you what you want in excess” with an overflow of stimulation that keeps the viewer in a “trance-like flow”—watching, clicking, and ultimately bringing in money through advertisements.

Keilty projected screenshots and videos of his scrolling through popular porn sites and compared their similar designs. He would mouse over still images and they would start moving, which intentionally gave the viewer a glimpse of the unknown, encouraging them to click on the video and continue further down the rabbit hole that is modern digital porn.

Everything is calculated based on troves of data collected about mouse movements, interactions, and bounce rates; there is very little about a porn website that is accidental.

He also spoke about MindGeek, a company which has virtually monopolized the porn industry and claims to distribute 80 percent of all online pornographic streaming content. Have you ever heard of PornHub, RedTube, YouPorn, Brazzers, or XVideos? That’s just a fraction of what falls under the MindGeek umbrella.

However, MindGeek insists on identifying as a “tech” company, and there is virtually no mention of pornography on its website, Twitter account, or other social media. While it certainly has the technology to be a “tech” company—its expertise in data mining and development of interfaces, algorithms, and analytics software shows just that—its ability to ignore the politics of the porn industry seems hypocritical to many.

For this reason, MindGeek has few issues interacting with banks. Yet, the source of its clicks and income—adult film actors—can have their bank accounts closed or loan applications denied just because of their profession.

Keilty’s talk was one that I never expected to see in EMPAC; it was a wonderful, thought-provoking addition to the schedule of events that will forever change how I look at porn. I am left wondering; what would pornography websites look like in something other than a capitalist landscape?

If you missed it, I would highly recommend checking out a similar talk he did at Cornell, called “Strategic Desires,” at poly.rpi.edu/s/keilty.