PROFILE 200505 - YNOT: You've Come a Long Way, Baby!

Honesty, longevity, respect, value: These may not be the first terms that come to mind when describing many adult Internet or mainstream companies, but they are more than applicable when referring to YNOT, the venerable resource site that has exemplified a dependable standard of excellence for going on 10 years.

But no one at YNOT is particularly interested in dwelling on the past. There’s too much work to do, and work is what they’ve been doing over the past few years, with the results now coming to fruition. Those results include an expansive and modernistic new Website, the authoritative Mastering the Adult Web CD (reviewed in April ’05 AVN Online), daily news on the site, an alliance with Cybernet Expo, and other substantial products that promise to solidify YNOT’s position as a company that provides a complete spectrum of adult webmaster tools, products, and information.

I spoke recently with four of YNOT’s principals - CTO and COO Jim Ruga, President Bob Rice, Editor in Chief Connor Young, and Vice President Jay Kopita – and the one thing that became clear from each conversation was the deep dedication they all share to the same vision of YNOT’s future, and an oft-expressed commitment to promoting ethical business practices on their site and in their relationships.

Rather than include snippets from each interview, Jim Ruga’s comments will be the focus of this profile, since he’s probably the least known of the four and also because of his outstanding ability to articulate YNOT’s philosophy and direction.

But first a few words about the new Website, which this writer thinks is a definite improvement over the old one, with an airy, clean design and clearly designated sections. YNOT has always had the best-organized, most informative resource section in the industry, and that has not changed, but now that they also offer daily news, feature articles, blogs, boards, and an array of webmaster tools, it may take a bit of time to become fluent with the site, and depending on your connection the homepage may take a few seconds longer to load. But it’s well worth the effort and time, and what you will notice right off the bat is an almost complete dearth of intrusive ads that represents a radical departure from the old site and just about any other resource Website out there.

"YNOT always had the right column with all the flashing little icons and the big banner at the top," says Jim Ruga, a programmer by trade who joined YNOT at the tail end of 1999, "but our recent experience tells us that the more ads you put on your site, the more [visitors] develop a blind eye to them. Eventually, you get to a point where they distract from your content, so in our new layout we’ve minimized what we will allow and enhanced the quality. The spot on the left at the top [of the homepage] is where we will allow full-blown flash ads, but it’s pretty much the only one, so it definitely ends up getting your attention. The only other ad is the affiliate guide ad [on the right] in a rotating spot surrounded with information and text links that go to a page that amounts to being a full-page spread on the particular company.

"What we really wanted to avoid," adds Ruga, "is a situation where we’re echoing what everyone else in the industry is doing by putting up bigger and flashier banners and getting more clicks to those banners, but then having people come back and say that we’re advertising someone who’s ripping them off. That’s not good for all the other advertisers on the site, and it’s certainly not good for YNOT!"

That ethical, value-oriented philosophy is replicated throughout the site. "This is something that you will see quite a bit more at YNOT, where our goal is to teach the newbie which companies are reputable, which affiliate programs can be trusted, which ones pay out on time, and at what rate. People want and need that information; they want to know who they’re doing business with. And we’re going to be exposing a lot more of that information a lot more heavily, unlike three or four years ago, when a newbie would come onto the board and ask for a good affiliate program, someone would mention a URL, and they would blindly sign up and send traffic to it, and only then find out that the program didn’t pay out on time, or shaved, and was not converting for them.

"Yes, some of that information is, in fact, going to be in the form of paid ads, but it will also produce a much better return for the advertiser, and the ad isn’t something that the reader will turn a blind eye to if there’s actually real information included with it that explains what the benefits are to using the particular advertiser."

Newbie, Newbie

According to Ruga, the primary audience for YNOT has always been, and will always be, the newbie, which raises the age-old question of what the numbers and quality of new people entering the business are.

"People look at the political and economic environment we’re in and believe that porn is failing because there aren’t many new people coming into the industry," he says. "But I believe that perception is wrong. I think you don’t see as many people coming in because they realize it’s a business, but that the quality of the newbies is much better than a year ago. I think the people who come in now approach it with the attitude that they’re here to make money and they want to know what they need to know to make money. They don’t care about building new technologies, but want to leverage the technologies that are already available to them.

"Our role, then, is to educate webmasters coming into the business. That doesn’t mean we don’t want them posting on our boards, but it does mean that we must convey knowledge to them and create an environment where they can feel comfortable, where they can ask the questions they need to ask and not get flamed, and where they are going to get good information and resources and be successful if they use that information correctly."

Of course, one hand always washes the other. "Ultimately," adds Ruga, "newbies are where YNOT’s advertisers come from. If we harbor them, build relationships with them, introduce them to the community, and give them good information to base their decisions on to help their economic standing in the industry, they will advertise with us. That’s what our business model has always been and what our business model will always be."

YNOT Payment

Newbies may be the target audience, but sometimes it takes new gizmos to attract them, and of all the new products YNOT is rolling out in the near future, perhaps the most exciting and potentially rewarding is YNOT Payment, which, for all intents and purposes, will make YNOT the newest IPSP on the block, providing payment processing for credit cards and ACH transactions and ultimately other forms of alternative payment.

"It will be coming out soon," says Ruga, "and we will be adding enhancements to it each month." At least two years in development, it was created in conjunction with several partners in the processing industry, and "had to be something that was solid, something that’s going to be around for 10 years."

Ruga is adamant, however, that they are not planning on competing head-to-head with the large processors, "but we do want to offer an alternative to a brand that people trust. We want to be supplemental, providing things that CCBill and Epoch don’t want to process for, and used in conjunction with some of the big boys. We also want to provide an entry point for newbies so that when they come into the industry they’re going to have a stable, solid platform that doesn’t have things like password-hacking issues, high chargeback issues, or a high entry point in terms of dealing with Visa/MasterCard fees, but creates a comfort zone for a newbie to say, ‘Yes, I can use this for my new idea and I’m not going to pay through the nose for it.’"

Ruga said he was not ready to explain precisely how they would legally skirt the Visa/MasterCard initiation fees, but that should all be explained by the time this issue is out. What he would say is that YNOT expects to be providing services that the others are not. "The two or three majors processors that are still around truly are doing an excellent job, but I suspect that once they see our complete service there will be some mimicking on their part. And if some people are going to look at this and say that YNOT is just trying to make a buck, well, duh, everyone wants to do that!"

Indeed, they do, but not everyone does it the way Ruga believes is essential for survival. "The goal," he says, "is to build an industry presence that’s going to be here for another 10 years, if not longer. To do that, you have to make your focus not just on what’s popular in the industry now, but on what the general trend will be for the next several years, and if you’re not thinking that far ahead, you simply aren’t going to be around."