“On the Offensive”, published last month in the WSJ, highlights the dirty secret of media content sharing sites, that is increasing costs of keeping content “clean” (i.e. no porn). For instance, Photobucket, the pictures hosting rising star (now on par with juggernaut Yahoo Photos at 10m visitors per month), has 30 people paid to watch uploaded pictures (90 per second at peak times) with 2 new 10-people shifts to come.

[Photobucket] expects to spend $1 million over the next year on content monitoring.

Unfortunately, it appears no filtering software is yet perfect, so relying on humans is the only solution (since nobody managed to train pigeons for that task). Imagine the poor guys who have to watch 150,000 pictures per day of which 0.7% are “inappropriate” (that’s a 1000!). Quoting one employee:

"Some days I wish I had a bottle of bleach under my desk so I could wash my eyes out"

Besides, the task is not easy for people or worse for computers because the definition for what makes it to the web and what gets rejected is quite blurry and is easy to abuse:

The censors are told to kill anything that might not appear in a mainstream magazine, an admittedly loose standard. A bare bottom is not OK, but a bare bottom showing even a tiny sliver of thong underwear is fine. A cartoon that uses the word "nigga" is OK but one that uses "nigger" is not. Nipples and genitals painted or tattooed to look innocent are definitely flagged. "That's something the computer wouldn't catch," said Mr. Gers, 24, one recent day, as he zapped a picture of two snowmen sculpted into a sexual position.

Just imagine what the cost may be for video hosting. I can only think “ouch” for Youtube – currently burning $1m/mo on bandwidth and $3.6m/yr in people costs.

But all the so-called web2.0 sites have to do it. Not for ethical “being/doing good” reasons but because advertisers really don’t like to pay to have their ads alongside offensive content.

MySpace's ability to sell advertising, its primary source of income, depends in part on scouring the site for objectionable material. [...] brand-name advertisers are leery about taking spots on pages created by MySpace users, which make up the vast majority.

By the way, I’m not sure the offensive content is the only issue that has advertisers holding back advertising on user-generated content sites (think ugly myspace pages).

Anyway, if you’re looking for a new business idea, read the WSJ article… and start a “picture review” outsourcing venture. And otherwise, keep it quiet! you don’t want this bubble to burst just over small expenditure details or advertisers fleeing brand-new hype web2.0 services, do you? :)