Friday, June 07, 2002

Nervy, Pervy VI
This week I was surprised and delighted by a pretty hefty redesign and improvement of Suicide Girls. Maybe I'm daft, but I had no idea it was coming -- and, frankly, I was so impressed that I'm glad I hadn't been expecting it.

Now, I'm not usually the sort of person to geek out to an erotic Web site (and I usually totally ignore people who say things like that), but the online communitarian -- as well as the hungry young man -- in me is all over Suicide Girls. And the recent improvements make me wish that they'd happened before we'd finished the nomination process for the community category of this year's Webby Awards. Maybe next year, if I'm asked back.

All of the pop-up advertisements that accompany my attempts to access the original URL's for Howard Rheingold's Electric Minds shed some light on the commercial potential that that project had, but I'm debating whether Suicide Girls hasn't supplanted Minds as the best example of how conversation and content can be connected online. I think it might have.

What does Suicide Girls do right?

  • The erotic content. SG's photographs of naked "gothic girls, punk chicks, indy, and emo teens" rank among some of the most interesting soft porn that I've ever seen. And I used to review zines for Eidos. SG is a guilty but excusable (barely, pun intended) pleasure -- most empowering and tasteful for all parties involved. Certainly better than any porn mag available on the newsstands even though that's not overly giving.
  • The presence and involvement of the women who model for the site. They maintain online diaries, participate in the discussion forums, and respond to reader comments -- via email and otherwise. I've exchanged several emails with a couple of the women involved in SG, which indicates that they take a personal interest in their involvement in the site -- as well as whatever professional interest might be involved.
  • The personality and presence of the people behind the production of the site. Spooky, Missy, and O are frequent and vocal participants in SG's main pages, discussion forums, and other communication avenues. I've exchanged several emails with Spooky, and Missy regularly posts photo sets from SG dinner parties, clothing exchanges, and other activities and events involving SG's actors. Were the founders less interesting and involved, SG would be a lesser Web service.
  • Member-developed content. SG has always featured discussion forums, but some recent additions allow members to produce blog-like diary entries, comment on journal entries and photo sets, and develop member profiles that in turn further member connection. The Hookup section enables members to search by gender, age, location, and interest. That and the profile feature brings Makeout Club to mind, and Makeout Club has far less going on.
  • Local connections. Given the ability to search by hometown, the geographic locations of the women modeling, and the calendar of events around the world, I wouldn't be surprised if members began reaching critical mass in urban areas around the world -- and gathering offline. The kinds of people -- and I hesitate to peg them -- are destined to connect in person at some point. And chances are that they'll have a lot in common.
  • Recent steps toward other forms of content. With the redesign, SG has moved into the realm of independent literature with its Words section (currently featuring short fiction by Jonathan Meyers). If the Words, Pics, Videos, and Reviews buttons are any indication (Videos seems less sure, given its current content), SG could very well evolve into a platform on which members can promote and distribute their own creative endeavors and output. That said, I'm not sure how I feel about Chloe's recent photo set that ties into the Spider-Man movie, but it might open up some licensing opportunities for them. Record labels, want SG's to wear your band's T-shirts? Might be worth a pretty penny.

    Please realize that I offer all of the above knowing that SG is at its base a porn site, but I think that other online community developers can learn a lot by what Spooky, Missy, and O are working on. Any organization working with creative, interesting, and productive people should pay heed to the model being developed by the folks behind SG. Its primary competitor Supercult, which I've resigned from, should pay attention. The online comics anthology Modern Tales would be well-served to consider SG's elements as it continues to evolve in its new direction. Professional associations should take note. And -- to be toally truthful -- the media-driven online and offline community that I'm helping develop could also learn a lot from Spooky, Missy, and O.

    SG rocks. Don't feel bad about checking it out. You could learn a lot, regardless of what you do.
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