“Please stand by”

How much porn is online, anyway?

Check this out: A site that automatically generates a gallery of 104 pictures chosen randomly from Altavista. It’s programmed by the fine folks behind ga2so.com, and my friend El Rey found it for me.

Here’s the thing: Since the images are randomly selected, they’re an interesting way to divine the nature of online pictorial content. What do people post? Plenty of really horrible shots of family vacations, obscure inventions, and corporate infographics, for sure. But El Rey had his own observation: “Judging by what I’ve seen,” he wrote, “the Internet is about 5 to 10 per cent poorly-lit porn.”

Which is, you know, rather less porn than I’d expected. Remember the famous 1995 Carnegie-Mellon study that claimed to have studied newsgroup images and determined that 85% of them were pornographic? Wired issued an immediate smackdown of the study, but I’d still have expected that there would be a colossal amount of smut online. Still, judging by my own perusal of those Altavista images, I’d say the percentage is even smaller than El Rey suggested; it looks more like 3 to 4 per cent.

Which makes me wonder — how would that percentage stack up against the real world? Or to put it another way: Of all the content produced in the entire world in every medium (television, magazines, books, etc), what fraction is porn? Does such a metric exist? I surfed around a while looking to see if anyone had ever attempted to uncover such a weird statistic, with no luck (though I did find nearly-as-weird material, including a study of “how much pornography there is in Finland at the beginning of the 21st century”).

My favorite find, though, was Porncheck — an online tool that lets you “you make sure your computer always has exactly the right amount of porn.” It’s a joke, of course, but a funny one, and with a civil-rights edge:

Note: No actual porn scan was performed. This is just a bogus scare tactic for your amusement. We have no way of seeing what’s on your hard drive; we’re just echoing the http values back to you.

But if this demonstration frightened you, your reaction could indicate excess porn on your computer. On the other hand, if you weren’t scared at all, not even a little bit, that could be a warning sign of insufficient porn.

Only you can be the judge of whether your computer has too much pornography. (Actually, that’s not strictly true. A judge, for example, could be the judge.)

Oh, and by the way? If you’re at work and have a no-porn policy, do not click on that original random-Altavista-picture link. Or if you do, don’t come blaming me when you get fired.

(Thanks to El Rey for this one!)

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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