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Weekly Web Watch: The X-Rated Domain

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Social conservatives and professional pornsters are unlikely allies in their opposition to a newly-created red-light district on the Web.

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It must have seemed like a good idea at the time: Create a special .xxx domain for pornography sites so that they're easier to find or avoid, block and police. But the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the non-profit group that manages Internet addresses, still managed to enrage everybody from social conservatives to professional pornsters with its decision last week.

Conservatives worry that the establishment of a virtual red-light district legitimizes porn content, and makes it even easier for children to find the stuff.

Free speech activists worry about a measure that facilitates blanket censorship of the domain, or of any domain, not just by parents or bosses or schools but by entire nations.

The porn operators complain that they're being forced to pay a $60 registration fee for every site name ($10 is the usual price) to a single private company, ICM Registry of Florida, which owns the .xxx domain.

The company reportedly has already pre-registered more than 200,000 domain names. Even if they don't use the domain names, porn publishers need to protect their brands.

And that's the oddest aspect of the decision. ICANN has the authority to create a top-level domain, but no power to force any site to move to it or abandon its .com extension. So, now we'll have porn with .com names sprinkled all over the Web and specially-labeled .xxx sites. They've somehow managed to encourage censorship while simultaneously making it ineffective!

What or who is next? We'll find out next year, when ICANN is expected to create hundreds of new top-level domain names like .gay and .news.

In Brief:

New York Times Builds A Paywall: The New York Times Co. (NYT) has taken the plunge, becoming the first major American news organization to begin charging for its formerly free online coverage. Actually, it's more complicated than that. You'll only hit the wall after reading 20 articles for free, and it doesn't count against your total if you get to the story via a deep link from a search engine, or Facebook, or whatever. To exceed the total, you need to subscribe for $20 a month for Web and tablet access, or $15 for Web and smartphone access.

Steve Outing, an online news industry consultant, thinks 99 cents a month would be more reasonable. The Times' own David Carr just wants to keep supplying his family with hamburgers. The email to readers from Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. asks us to consider it "an investment in The Times," but he's not offering stock options.

Twitter At Age 5: The first tweet was sent just five years ago this week. And today, the site is responsible for 140 million lost minutes a day-and that's just the time spent sending mini-messages. Co-founder Biz Stone says thanks on his blog. MediaBistro celebrates by recording a list of milestones, like the first-ever tweet and the unlikely triumph of Ashton Kutcher.

iPad, iShmad: A growing chorus of voices declares that we have now entered the "post-PC era." Certainly, there's a strong case that mobile devices have changed social behavior, making computing "more ubiquitous, casual and intimate," as a Forrester analyst tells USA Today. But has the death of the PC been greatly exaggerated? PCWorld's Tom Dunlap details all the things that his cheapo Lenovo laptop can do that Apple's (AAPL) iPad 2 can't do.

Firefox 4 Released:
On the heels of Microsoft's (MSFT) release of its revamped browser Internet Explorer 9, competitor Mozilla releases Firefox 4 this week. Oddly, the new Firefox will work with earlier operating system Microsoft Windows XP, which is still widely used, while Microsoft's IE9 runs only its latest two versions of Windows.

Microsoft is still the most-used browser in the U.S., but Firefox has surpassed it in Europe, and Google's (GOOG) Chrome is gaining on both.

Meanwhile, PCWorld's Preston Gralla reports that Microsoft has quietly, not to say mysteriously, jumped from seventh to second place in online video watching in just one month, passing Hulu, among others, according to ComScore numbers. Google, through its ownership of YouTube, is still in first place by a huge margin.

Just a guess: Bing's video section doesn't default to a blank search field. It offers a wide selection of the latest videos, featuring everything from cute babies ("Mommy's Nose Is Scary!") to news ("Ghadafi Forces In Retreat").


Lasting through April 15, 100% of the donations made to The Ruby Peck Foundation for Children's Education will be channeled to the children of Japan as they attempt to find their footing following this natural disaster; and to kick off this drive, we'll pledge $5000 to get it started. Please do what you can, as it will add up, and thanks.
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