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.
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.
At the time, large webcamming studios were being built across the US, Latin America and Eastern Europe, churning out 24-hour streams from sometimes hundreds of models per day. These studios provided, and still do outside of the US, access to a safe space as well as the means to stream. Ten years ago, Cox, who worked in live music video production, was hired to build out a network of studios in Colombia. He says that at the peak of that project, the studio network shot 250 models per day.
“At the time I was going to school and working construction,” he says. “I was making $600 a week, which wasn’t bad, especially being sort of young. And I remember [my girlfriend] took me to West Hollywood where a webcam studio was set up, and big hyperlink I made like over $400 my first night. Like, literally in three hours. Safe to say I wasn’t in construction for long.”
Soon after Ducati started camming, Flirt4Free shuttered its West Hollywood studio. According to Pew Research, nearly 75 percent of American households have broadband internet, compared to about 50 percent in 2007 and many laptops have cameras capable of streaming HD video live to the internet. Models no longer needed the studios to make a living in the US, but developing countries in Latin America and Eastern Europe still rely heavily on studios to provide technology and a safe space for camming. While US models split revenue with services like Flirt4Free, MyFreeCams and Chaturbate, they’re otherwise largely independent.