“The Nineties” — My Interview with CNN for Its Upcoming Documentary

Just about twenty years ago, in the wake of the passage of the Communications Decency Act, I began researching what would become my first mainstream book: Obscene Profits: The Entrepreneurs of Pornography in the Cyber Age. It was published by Routledge (now part of Taylor & Francis) in 2000 and remains one of the only books to look at the transition of the adult industry from video to the World Wide Web in the mid- to late 1990s.

About a month ago, I got an email from Herzog & Company, a video production firm working with CNN to produce the next installment of its decade-retrospectives. There are three previous installments — The Sixties, The Seventies, and The Eighties — all of which were produced by Tom Hanks and the Playtone production company (which Hanks founded in 1998 with producer Gary Goetzman).

En-route to some lectures at the 2017 annual conference of the Alaska Society for Technology in Education, I detoured through Los Angeles to do two-hour-long on-camera interview with the production company. One of the themes that the documentary will cover is the rise of the online adult industry and the impact that it had on Web development in general. I was gratified to learn during the interview that my invitation stemmed from the fact that several of the other people they interviewed referenced Obscene Profits.

Set out below are some of the major talking points that I covered during the interview. There is no set release date right now, but I think that the first episode will air sometime in late spring or early summer 2017. Needless to say, I will update this post as soon as I have concrete information.

Outline of Interview Topics

Relevant Books I’ve Written

  • Obscene Profits (2000)
  • The Decency Wars (2006)
  • The Court and the Cross (2008)
  • American Privacy (2009)

Timothy Berners-Lee creates the World Wide Web

  • #1989 Memo proposing integration of hypertext with domain name system and TCP/IP
  • #1990 Concept accepted by manager and made public
  • #1991-08-06 Firat Web server at CERN
    • info.cern.ch
  • Critical point: NO patent, NO royalties

Gore/Clinton Contribution to the internet

  • Bad rap for Gore; disproved by Snopes.com
  • Robert Kahn and Vincent Cerf:
    • “Al Gore was the first political leader to recognize the importance of the Internet and to promote and support its development”
    • “No other elected official, to our knowledge, has made a greater contribution [to the Internet] over a longer period of time”
  • Senator Gore led passage of High Performance Computing and Communications Act in 1991
    • “Gore Act” supported initiative known as “National Research and Education Network” that helped spread Internet beyond academia and defense to the broader public
  • #1992 President Clinton almost immediately establishes an advisory council, led by VP Gore, to develop recommendations for the creation of a national information infrastructure
  • #1993-03-02 President Clinton sends what is believed to be first email by head of state.
  • #1996 Passage of the Telecommunication Act of 1996, which among other things the controversial “e-rate” program providing discounted Internet access for schools and libraries.
  • Between 1994 and 1999, percentage of schools with Internet access rose from 35% to 95%
  • Federal funding for school educational technology, FY 1994: $23 million
  • Federal funding for school educational technology, FY 2000: $766 million
  • First significant impact of Internet on workplace productivity: release of Starr Report on Sept. 11, 1998

BROWSER WARS: Mosaic, Netscape Navigator, Internet Explorer

  • #1991 Timothy Berners-Lee releases “WorldWideWeb” (1st browser)
  • #1994-01-23 Release of “Mosaic” by team at National Center for Supercomputing Applications, led by Marc Andreeson
  • #1994-12-15 Release of “Netscape Navigator,” a proprietary application developed by Netscape Communication Corp. Company was co-founded by Andreeson and Silicon Graphics co-founder Jim Clark
  • #1994-95 “Netscape Navigator” introduces “on-the-fly” display of Web pages, rather than waiting for all components to download
  • Ease of use directly contributed to rapidly-rising popularity of Internet
  • #1995 Microsoft releases first version of “Internet Explorer”
  • #1996 “Netscape Navigator” peaks at nearly 80% market share
  • #1997 Microsoft includes “Internet Explorer” as standard component of Windows. Key feature: free with Windows
  • #2000 “Internet Explorer” replaces “Netscape Navigator” as top browser, with similar 80% market share.

AOL – concept of anonymity, chat rooms

  • #1988 Internet Relay Chat developed by Jarkko Oikarinen in Finland
  • #1990 Prodigy goes national
  • #1991 Quantum Computing Services renamed as America Online; marketed as online service for people unfamiliar with computers (contrast to Compuserve, which was favored by the tech community
  • #1992 AOL chat
  • #1992 Prodigy chat
  • #1993 Compuserve has 1.5 million members and thousands of special-interest forums (mostly moderated)
  • #1995 The term “chatiquette” coined
  • #1995-08-24 Microsoft launches msn.com
  • #1996 AOL introduces flat pricing for subscriptions — $19.95 per month
  • #1997 AOL spins off chat rooms as AOL Instant Messenger; 19,000 chat rooms used over 1 million hours per day
  • #1997 AOL buys Compuserve to gain access to telecommunications network and access points
  • #1997 Yahoo! chat
  • #1998 AIM becomes available as software to non-subscribers
  • #1998 AOL releases v. 4.0; uses up entire worldwide production of CDs for several weeks

Cybersex, concept of anonymity, a/s/l

  • Online conversation for the purpose of sexual titillation and/or orgasm
  • Is cybersex with someone other than your partner infidelity?
  • Text-based communication particularly well-suited to fantasy and role-play
    • #1984 New Yorker cartoon: “On the Internet, no one knows you’re a dog.”
  • Perception (illusion) of anonymity
  • Disinhibition
  • Physically safer but perhaps psychologically riskier; obsession with fantasy
  • #1984 Initial release of “Leisure Suit Larry” — one of the earliest and easily most popular adult-oriented computer games
  • Mid-1980s through mid-1990s: Computer Bulletin Boards
  • #1990 Third edition of “Leisure Suit Larry” released
  • #1990 200,000 US homes had Internet access
  • #1993 5 million US homes had Internet access
  • #1993 Phillip Robinson and Nancy Tamosaitis publish “The Joy of Cybersex”
  • Price of computers fell steadily in mid- to late 1990s
  • #1998 Deb Levine publishes “The Joy of Cybersex” (more closely modeled on “The Joy of Sex”)
  • #2000 43 million US homes had Internet access
  • #2000 The journal Sexual Addiction and Compulsion publishes a special edition entitled “Cybersex: The Dark Side of the Force”
  • Use of “a/s/l” originated on Internet Relay Chat in 1980s and spread into chat rooms in 1990s — “age/sex/location”

Online adult content, Telecommunications Act of 1996 – Decency Act (CDA)

  • #1995-07-03 Time magazine publishes article by Philip Elmer-DeWitt, which erroneously claimed that “On those Usenet newsgroups where digitized images are stored, 83.5 percent of the pictures were pornographic”
    • Famous cover of green-tinged child staring in shock at a computer screen
    • Three weeks later, Elmer-DeWitt wrote a follow-up story conceding that the study on which he based his article was seriously flawed
  • Nonetheless, Senator Jim Exon (D-NE) cited the original article in proposing what became known as the “Exon Amendment,” aimed at prohibiting the transmission of obscene and indecent content on the Internet
  • Incorporated as the Communications Decency Act of 1996 into the much larger Telecommunications Act of 1996
  • Indecency portion ruled unconstitutional by US District Court in Philadelphia; Attorney General Janet Reno appealed the decision to US Supreme Court
  • #1997-06 US Supreme Court unanimously rejects “indecency” portion of the CDA
  • #1998 Congress passes “Child Online Protection Act,” which required distributors of “material harmful to minors” to obtain a credit card number or similar personal identification
  • #1998-11-19 In response to a lawsuit by the ACLU, a preliminary injunction issued in US District Court
  • #1999-01 US District Court judge Lowell Reed issues a permanent injunction against COPA
  • #1999-04-01 US government appealed Judge Reed’s decision to 3rd Circuit; the Appeals Court upheld the injunction
  • #2000 I deliver presentation at US Dept. of Justice to a dozen assistant US attorneys about online adult industry
  • #2002 US Supreme Court sent case back to 3rd Circuit for review
  • #2003-03-06 3rd Circuit again upheld injunction
  • #2004-06-29 US Supreme Court rules in Ashcroft v. ACLU that the injunction should be upheld on grounds that COPA is unconstitutional
  • #2007-03-22 Judge Reed issues permanent injunction against COPA, finding the law violates the 1st and 5th Amendments
  • #2008-07-22 The 3rd Circuit upholds Judge Reed’s decision
  • #2009-01-21 The US Supreme Court declines to hear the government’s appeal of the 3rd Circuit decision

Yahoo! (and other listings of adult sites)

  • Distinction between hierarchical directories and search engines
  • Review sites from this period: RabbitsReviews.com and TheBestPorn.com
  • #1994-01 Jerry Yang and David Filo found Yahoo.com
    • Jerry and David’s guide to the World Wide Web
  • #1995-01-18 yahoo.com created (general list with adult section)
  • #1995-10 PersianKitty.com (adult)
  • #1996-01 Larry Page and Sergey Brin create Google search engine as a graduate research project
  • #1996 Greenguy’s Link-o-Rama (adult)
  • #1996-97 Adult business communities and publications
    • #1996-09 YNOT.com
    • GFY.com
    • Adult Video News (AVN.com)
    • Xbiz.com
  • #1997-09-15 google.com created
  • #1997 Attillavist.com
  • #1998-06-05 Gnuhoo director (later DMOZ) goes live (general list with adult sections)
    • Uses a hierarchical ontology scheme
  • #1998 Google.com

PORN DRIVES INNOVATION_Advances tech_Demonstrates Economic Potential

  • HTML and Web page optimization
  • Large-scale web hosting and content delivery networks
  • Online credit card processing for e-commerce
    • Mechanics
    • Fraud detection and prevention
    • Consumer acceptance
  • Formation of the core concepts and technology for the affiliate program model
  • Video compression and streaming; also, early adopters of High Definition web distribution
  • Implementation of live cam shows

Match.com – Internet Dating – Infidelity Concerns

  • Throughout 1990s, rise of Web makes it possible for people with specific interests to find each other.
  • #1993 Match.com created
  • #1994 Australian couples launches SexyAds.com after meeting through adult personals on Internet
  • #1995 Match.com beta test goes live; later profiled in Wired magazine
  • Good example is People Exchanging Power (P.E.P.) — had difficulty getting newspapers to accept meeting announcements; Web made it much easier for dominants/submissives to find each other, particularly in conservative areas. Web site Peplove.com is still active; organization is in its 31st year.


  • #1994-07-05 Amazon.com founded in state of Washington
  • #1995-07 Amazon sells its first book online
  • #1995-09-03 The AuctionWeb (later eBay.com) is launched as part of Pierre Omidyar’s personal Web site
  • #1995-10 Amazon.com opens to the public on the Web
  • #1997 The AuctionWeb renamed to eBay
  • #1998 eBay hires Meg Whitman as President and CEO
  • #1998 PayPal.com

Dark Side of the Internet – Child Porn, Privacy Issues, Hackers

  • #1990 Finished my clerkship with US District Court in Springfield MA
  • Tail end of US Postal Service sting operations involving printed child pornography
  • Child porn started going digital in late 80s
    • Usenet newsgroups
    • Web sites
    • Digital cameras (mid- to late 1990s)
    • Scanners (still $1,000+ in 1995 but falling quickly)
    • #1999 Napster — 1st peer-to-peer network
  • Privacy Issues
    • Anonymity not as complete online as people think
    • Virtually all IP addresses are linked to an Internet Service Provider subscription, which in turn links to a physical address
    • #1995 Lou Montulli, an employee at Netscape, develops HTTP “cookie” concept
    • #1996-02-12 Public finds out about the use of “cookies” in article by Fortune
  • Hacking
    • As software grew more complicated, security flaws inevitably arose
    • At the same time, the value of electronic data increased, providing an economic incentive for the theft of data/identities
    • #1992 Release of the movie “Sneakers”; plot is built around the theft of a universal decryption device — “No More Secrets”
    • #1993 First Def Con hacking conference takes place
    • #1994 Hackers begin focusing on emerging World Wide Web
    • #1995-02-15 FBI arrests Kevin Mitnick
    • #1999 David Smith writes and releases the “Melissa” virus, which essentially crashes the e-mail systems of hundreds of corporations. Smith is located, tried, convicted, and sentenced to 20 months in prison for causing an estimated $80 million in damages
    • #1999 Mitnick accepts a plea agreement with US government and pleads guilty to various electronic fraud-related charges

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