Kink.com’s CTO Shares the Tech Behind the Scenes

In 1996, shortly after he came from England to get a Ph.D. in Finance at Columbia University, Peter Acworth read about a fireman who made millions selling pornographic pictures on the Internet. Acworth enjoys BDSM, and knew he wasn’t the only kinky person on the planet. The nascent Internet porn industry wasn’t meeting his needs, and he was sure that if he felt that way, millions of others did as well. He began to build what could be the most successful online fetish porn company in the United States, Kink.com.

Hot SetThis is where you say, “Excuse me? You’re writing about a website called Kink.com?” Well, yes. It turns out that behind its unusual content, there’s an impressive technical platform.

It operates in a big business, too. In the U.S. alone, pornographic websites generated $2.84 billion in revenue in 2010, more than half the global total of $4.9 billion, according to the website Online MBA. Every second, nearly $4,000 comes in from more than 28,000 users. Again, that’s every second. Across the Web, 12 percent of all sites are focused on pornography, as are 35 percent of all downloads and 25 percent of all search requests.

In an industry that’s shuddering under the pressure of free competitive content, overseas competition and rampant piracy, Kink.com is a marvel. Despite its focus, it pursues a somewhat traditional, though flexible, business model, and it sweats details that can make or break a content-heavy site. Even a cursory visit demonstrates its user friendliness, simple navigation and excellent production quality without an inundation of pesky pop-ups and loops from other sites. (No, I didn’t go behind the firewall.)

CTO Steve Morgan and I talked about the company’s not so naughty side.

Let’s start with the basics. What platform does the site run on and what tools are behind it?

On the consumer-facing side, we use Java, J2EE and JBoss 6.7. Our social and interactive presences are being built in Spring Social and are also hosted in JBoss 7. For publishing, we use Lamp Stack on PHP, but it’s a legacy system that we’re slowly migrating to Java.

How many users can you support at once?

Kink.com and all of our sub-sites are clustered and load balanced on five JBoss application servers. Obviously, we have very large peaks when live shows are going on, but on average there are about 2,500 to 3,000 users active on our cluster at any given hour.

Have you ever had a heart pounding moment when everything went wrong but the day was saved?

Many times! It can be anything from a denial of service attack to banking gateway issues. There’s never a dull day. We have a great team that’s capable of quickly digging in and uncovering the issue. We tend to rally around supporting live broadcasts, especially of our major stars. We keep a special eye on capacity and performance.

How many employees are on the tech side?

We have 26 full-time in tech, out of about 130 overall. We use a lot of consultants in tech and marketing for their specialty expertise. Of course, the talent side of the business has a lot of contractors.

So when you’re hiring for your team, what kind of experience do you look for?

We like large-scale experience with Java back end and jQuery front end. A potential hire has to be committed to sustainable pace via Agile practices with a good work/life balance. We also want people who are looking for large scaling technical challenges.

Kink offers 401 Ks, healthcare, standard business hours and things like that. Even with all that, is it a challenge to find people who fit with the culture?

Obviously, they have to be open and be willing and interested in working for the adult industry. We try to find this out early in the process from a talent lead flow perspective.

Then is there a typical Kink employee?

This may come as a surprise, but we have a sizable population of women, 20 percent of them in tech, and growing. We do mostly skew younger, to ages 35 and under. There’s a fair balance of straight and gay. We’re open to alternate lifestyles, meaning kinky. Because of our openness, our employees engage in a variety of activities outside of work including religion, pets, art, building all manner of things, pro-bono development work and working with startups. I’m constantly fascinated by everyone’s outside interests

What about metrics? I’m sure that you’ve got a broad demographic of subscribers.

We’re very protective of our members’ privacy so we don’t, in a broad way, track who they are. But if you look at our forum, you’ll see that while it’s largely men, there are a lot of women as well as gay and straight. There’s a broad range of ages and backgrounds. Kink is very democratizing in this way. We’re one of the only companies in the marketplace producing at this high of level. I will say that our biggest markets are the U.S. and Germany.

Some themes must be more popular than others.

Sure. We’ve got nearly two dozen sites and they cater to different fetishes. Our real growth area in the past few years has been our live cam business, Kink Live. In the era of piracy and market saturation, this is where we’re offering interactive, personal content that can’t be duplicated. We were one of the pioneers moving from recorded to live content, and now we’re starting to see the rest of the industry follow our lead.

At some point employees move on. Do you think people from the tech side have trouble finding work when they leave?

No. The adult industry has large scaling challenges. Whether a future employer agrees or disagrees morally with the business, it’s generally understood that if you’ve worked with adult content, you’ve encountered and solved those kinds of problems.

Image: Sam Breach via Flickr

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