When I was a kid in the '70s, I imagined the world of the future as a pristine suburban mall writ large -- a mixture of Bucky Fuller and "Logan's Run." It never would have occurred to me that, just a few short years from the magical date of 2001, I might find the advance guard of the future sitting in the blue-gray glow of a computer screen, idly exchanging notes and comments on the best way to market naked pictures on the Net.
But there you have it. I have seen the future -- for better or worse -- and his name is Sharky.
Leave it to the adult webmasters -- who've pioneered the use of streaming audio and video and other kinds of interactive entertainment on the Web -- to get to the future before the rest of us. "Sharky Live," webcast from the offices of the Web site Cybererotica, is a twice-weekly, real-time, radio-style talk show devoted to the ins and outs (as it were) of the Internet porn industry. It is, as Sharky himself explains at the start of every show, "the Internet's premier RealAudio show dead mmpphh that'll help you get a feet on the pulse of the adult Web."
Or something along those lines. With RealAudio, it's often a little hard to tell for sure just what people are saying. But you get the idea. "Sharky Live" is a show dedicated to the fine art of "takin' care of business," as the snippet of the Bachman-Turner Overdrive song in the background reminds listeners who may not be perfectly clear on the concept.
The topics range from the vaguely salacious ("Dokk has Phonesex with Marina!") to the mundane ("How to generate productive traffic!"). Aside from the inevitable detours into technical arcana -- like true geeks, those responsible for the show are obsessed with matters of T-3 configuration, retransmission rates and network congestion -- the show is mainly a chance for various adult webmasters with fanciful names like Webfather and Fantasyman to shoot the shit about the strange business they're in.
If you set aside the subject matter, "Sharky Live" resembles nothing so much as a late-night "freeform" college radio show (without all the irritating novelty songs). It's all inside jokes and technical difficulties. Speakers interrupt one another, callers are cut off, sometimes the sound cuts out entirely for several seconds at a time. The word "bumbling" comes inescapably to mind.
Sharky: We got a guy on line three named Eddie. Do we know who Eddie is?
Fantasyman: Well, let him on. Let's see.
[Brief succession of beeps]
Sharky: Eddie? Hello?
[Faint sound of voice in the background]
Fantasyman: Hello, Eddie?
Fantasyman: I guess we don't have Eddie.
When not connecting and disconnecting various callers, Sharky himself has what you might call a low-key interviewing style. He responds to most comments with a murmured "wow" -- often preceded by a moment or two of awkward silence -- and would clearly prefer his guests do most of the talking. Luckily, they're more than happy to.
Some like to rant: Fantasyman (Sharky's boss at Cybererotica and a regular on the show) is happy to let forth half-hour harangues on his least favorite kinds of adult-Web rip-off artists. Others like to tell stories: On one recent show, Sharky's sidekick, DoKK -- a genial sort with a soft Southern accent -- described how a certain part of his anatomy came to be known as the "DoKK Ness Monster." The tale is difficult to summarize; suffice it to say that it involved a stripper with "capabilities that I have never seen again to date," among them a certain neat trick she could do with a Twizzler. (The punch line: She's now become a nun.)
Mostly, though, the guests talk shop: how to generate traffic, how to generate revenue, how to keep from getting ripped off. Much of it isn't any different than the sort of talk you'd hear at any Internet marketing seminar. But adult webmaster shop talk does have some distinct qualities of its own. On one memorable show, an adult webmaster and domain-name hoarder by the name of Webfather (very few guests on this show use their real names) eagerly reported the latest additions to his collection, purchased (presumably) from domain-name speculators who'd registered the names with InterNIC but never used them. To a chorus of "oohs" and "ahs" from Sharky and DoKK, Webfather catalogued his recent purchases:
Webfather: We got one from Grimm today, Webwhores. And we got Nymphos.com. And we got Voyeur.com.
Webfather: And we got Vagina.com
DoKK: Oh my ...
Sharky (astonished): Wow!
DoKK: ... word! Oh my God!
Sharky (flustered): Man you got a ... Shit!
DoKK: When you make a score like this, do you have a ritual, I mean, do you go out and get yourself a steak?
Webfather: [I] take about 30 milligrams of valium to try to come down.
DoKK: You'd have to. With me you'd need 100 milligrams of thorazine and a polo mallet.
"Sharky Live" is not, to be sure, the only specialized -- or even the only weird -- RealAudio production on the Net. A quick browse through the RealAudio and Video links at the Timecast Web site turns up any number of oddities -- from the CyberAir Airpark Chicago, which features "live transmissions of the Chicago Approach frequency" from O'Hare Airport, to a page promising live "Sunrise Nature sounds from the San Jacinto Wilderness near Idyllwild, CA." There are 24-hour Internet radio stations for Dittoheads and Liberated Women alike; one slightly overenthusiastic Oasis fan has put his own covers of the band's songs online. (I couldn't quite bring myself to listen.)
But "Sharky Live" is more than just a quirky example of Internet "narrowcasting." The show in many ways represents the cutting edge of computer networking. For "Sharky Live" is not simply a call-in radio show: It's a virtual schmoozefest. Though a typical episode of the show reaches only 100 or so listeners, Sharky estimates that nearly half of these listeners stop by the "Sharky Live" chat room during the broadcast of the
show -- commenting on the topics at hand, asking questions of the guests and chattering away with one another about anything and everything. It's hard to imagine a show more honestly interactive than that.
In a way, it's hardly surprising that this sort of networking came first to the adult Web. Adult webmasters are often ahead of the pack when it comes to new technologies; they also network more intensely than practically anyone on line outside of LambdaMOO. The popular YNOT adult webmaster message board fills up with hundreds of posts a night (and YNOT offers live webmaster chat every night as well); inspired by YNOT's success (and in some cases annoyed by its alleged "censorship"), various adult webmasters have set up other message boards to exchange ads, insults, accusations -- and sometimes even practical advice.
Several months back, Wired's Jon Katz set out to define the "Digital Citizen" -- whom he described as an honest and upright character with "abundant energy and knowledge," one of "the most informed and participatory citizens we have ever had or are likely to have." Katz forgot only one thing in this vaguely self-congratulatory catalog of digital democracy: The most energetic and participatory of all "Digital Citizens" are the ones distributing dirty pictures on the Web.