Sex, Drugs, and Rock & Roll


The request for bailout funds by pornographers Larry Flynt and Joe Francis -- seemingly tongue in cheek, certain to be ignored by Washington -- is a reminder that sex is serious business in the online age, and also that technology has disrupted some of the traditional aspects of the sex business. It's not just a bad economy that afflicts the smut merchants.

I wrote a bit about this over at our sister site, CIO Insight, after the social networking service Ning shut down its red light district. That reminded me of an article I'd written several years ago about the challenges of setting up a porn site -- even as such sites hurt the venerable porn magazine business.

And before pornography helped popularize the web, it helped popularize the videotape. "There's got to be a moral here somewhere, right? Not really. But if you're inventing, investing in, or marketing a new technology, the pornographers may be your best friends. Usually they'll figure out how to use whatever you have long before you know how to evangelize them."

Sex and drugs and rock & roll were the unholy trinity of a certain moment in American culture. That moment seems to be very much alive on the internet.

The recent changes to the pricing structure and rights management at iTunes, along with the related decline of the disc-driven music industry, highlight the fact that people follow their music to the best format they can find -- from 78s to LPs and 45s, to eight-tracks, cassettes, CDs, and now digital.

And you can't open your email without finding an offer for medication.

Sex, drugs, and rock & roll have all found their place in the digital world, and helped make the internet the encompassing cultural force that it has become.

Yes, this is somehow relevant to your business. The sad fact is that your company blogs and social networks probably aren't very good, and that's because they don't feel organic and plugged into the way people actually communicate with each other.

I'm not suggesting that you add sex and drugs to the corporate website, although a little music might be nice.

The point is that people bring their real lives online with them. Companies that communicate with their customers in something like the vernacular have a better chance of building relationships with those customers than companies that stick to impersonal corporate-speak.

So laugh at Flynt and Francis, and keep your blogs and social nets safe for work. But remember that "consumer" and "customer" are synonyms for "human being," and try to conduct your business accordingly.