Signing up for services like My Free Cams, Flirt4Free, or Chaturbate, which are essentially platforms like Facebook or Snapchat, is simple. Once you’ve filled out a web form, verified your age and agreed to the service’s terms and conditions, you can immediately start streaming to a limitless audience of viewers seeking human connection and, of course, sexual release. With the right tools and an ID that says they’re 18 or older, these 21st-century push-button celebrities don’t even have to leave their bedrooms to make a living, and they all have one woman to thank.
Early on, she decided to giver her followers unrestricted access to her daily activities, including intimate moments like masturbation and sex
When Jennifer Ringley picked up a webcam at her college book store in 1996, she had no way of knowing she’d serve as the catalyst for an industry that’s been estimated to pull in more than $1 billion in revenue annually. Just two years earlier, Connectix, a small my link peripheral maker released the QuickCam, a digital camera that sat on top of your Apple’s Macintosh and delivered 320-x-240 black-and-white images at 15 frames per second for $100.
In a rare 2015 interview, Ringley told Gimlet Media’s Reply All podcast that she found herself at a loss for what to do with her impulse purchase and ming skills to the test. She rigged her webcam to constantly record candid stills from inside her dorm room and upload a new image every 15 minutes to her site, .
That honor belonged to a coffee pot at Cambridge University, but she was the first to give the world 24-hour access to her private life via the internet. For the next seven years, Ringley streamed her daily life, uncut and uncensored for an audience of millions of strangers.
She would become something of an internet phenomenon, a precursor to the unvarnished YouTube, Snapchat and Instagram celebrities of today. She appeared in profiles for major media organizations and eventually made a much-cited appearance on David Letterman’s show. But for all of the mainstream hype, Jennicam’s appeal was decidedly NSFW.
The following year Facebook was born and over the next ing video would become a cornerstone of mainstream social media. YouTube launched its live video service in 2010, followed by Facebook and Twitter in 2015 and Instagram in 2016. The big social networks have put their money on live video but anyone working in the adult cam industry could have told you: It’s been a safe bet for years.
Despite its success, Ringley took Jennicam offline in 2003, following a sex scandal in which she hooked up with a fellow lifecaster’s boyfriend on camera
Kelly Holland, owner and CEO of Penthouse, says beyond driving profits, the adult entertainment industry and social networks are serving the same basic need.
“Cams are the adult industry’s response to Facebook, frankly,” Holland says. “Facebook happened for a reason. It became what it was, I would tell you, not through Zuckerberg’s brilliance, but because it was just the right thing at the right time. It was in the pocket for where we were culturally, and where were we. We were in this incredibly desperate world where we had all moved away from home, we weren’t with the kids that grew up with. We weren’t with our families, and we were in this huge world of billions of people, and we needed to create our little tribes.”
People in the adult camming business consistently draw the connection between online social networks like Facebook and the work that they do. Clinton Cox, founder of Havoc Media and Cam Con, a “model convention” focused on webcamming and other forms of social media, got his start in the early days of commercialized live streaming video.