Justin.tv Is Redirecting Porn Queries Into Cash (Update: Not Any More)

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Roundtripping to the Cloud

In the down economy, startups are trying everything they can think of to keep a steady flow of revenue coming in. For popular live-streaming video site Justin.tv, it looks like one of these measures is to try to capitalize on its users’ frequent searches for porn: if you run queries for terms like “xxx” or “sex”, the site will automatically redirect you to a third-party pornography page.

Before users are redirected, they’re presented with a message for five seconds indicating that while Justin.tv has banned adult content, the site is sending them to “a site where you can find what you’re looking for”. The new “feature” may be flying under the banner of convenience, but the site is clearly looking for a new source of income. Justin.tv may well be having trouble coping in the current economy, and a porn affiliate pays far more than a blank search results page.

I don’t think there’s anything morally wrong with what Justin.tv is doing – it’s highly unlikely anyone is going to accidentally search the site for “xxx” and get offended when they’re sent to a porn site (though they might get annoyed). But the new ‘feature’ doesn’t gel with much of the content on the site, which features clips of puppies and video games on its home page. And the site should really include a page confirming that the user is over 18 before redirecting them (there seems to be no such confirmation found on at least some of the redirected porn sites).

Above all, I sincerely hope this isn’t the start of a new trend. I hate when sites redirect me without my permission, and fear that other startups could expand on this technique to include other search categories – how annoying would it be if a search for “soccer” sent users to Nike’s homepage? It may sound like an extreme case, but many startups are getting desperate, and a good user experience is often among the first things sacrificed as they try to stay afloat.

Update 2/19/09: CEO Michael Seibel says that Justin.tv has discontinued the practice.

While the goal of redirecting inappropriate search queries was to discourage this type of content on site, this solution has unfortunately created the misperception that we support or condone this content. As a result, we have decided to discontinue redirecting search queries to third party sites. The queries that were being redirected now return zero results.

Update: Justin.tv CEO Michael Seibel has sent us the following response to this story:

Justin.tv uses a variety of common tools to effectively reduce the
amount of inappropriate content on the site including: community-based
reporting, community admins, chat moderation and redirecting
sex-related search queries.

Lets be clear, this isn’t the magical solution for monetizing Web 2.0,
these tools exclusively help us to improve the community experience on
the site.

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