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Jennifer Kaye Ringley
August 10, 1976
|Other names||Jennifer Johnson|
|Website||jennicam.org at the Wayback Machine (archived December 27, 2003)|
Jennifer Kaye Ringley (born August 10, 1976) is an Internet personality and former lifecaster. She is known for creating the popular website JenniCam. Previously, live webcams transmitted static shots from cameras aimed through windows or at coffee pots. Ringley's innovation was simply to allow others to view her daily activities. She was the first web-based "lifecaster". In June 2008, CNET hailed JenniCam as one of the greatest defunct websites in history. She retired from lifecasting at the end of 2003.
Regarded by some as a conceptual artist, Ringley viewed her site as a straightforward document of her life. She did not wish to filter the events that were shown on her camera, so sometimes she was shown nude or engaging in sexual behavior, including sexual intercourse and masturbation. This was a new use of Internet technology in 1996 and some viewers were interested in its sociological implications while others watched it for sexual arousal. The JenniCam website coincided with a rise in surveillance as a feature of popular culture, exemplified by the 1998 film The Truman Show and reality television programs such as Big Brother, and as a feature of contemporary art and new media art. From a sociological point of view, JenniCam was an important early example of how the internet could create a cyborg subject by integrating human images with the internet. As such, JenniCam set the stage for conversations regarding the relationship of technology and gender.
Ringley's desire to maintain the purity of the cam-eye view of her life eventually created the need to establish that she was within her rights as an adult to broadcast such information, in the legal sense, and that it was not harmful to other adults. Unlike later for-profit webcam services, Ringley did not spend her day displaying her naked body and she spent much more time discussing her romantic life than she did her sex life. Ringley maintained her webcam site for seven years and eight months.
Sources stated that JenniCam received over 100 million visitors weekly. Nate Lanxon of CNET said "remember this is 1996 and the Web as we know it now had barely lost its virginity, let alone given birth to the God-child we know as the modern Internet."
On April 3, 1996, during her junior year at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, the 19-year-old Ringley installed a webcam in her college dorm room and provided images from that cam on a webpage. The webpage would automatically refresh every three minutes with the most recent picture from the camera. Initially, anyone with Internet access could observe the often mundane events of Ringley's life; however, a few months after its start, Ringley started charging viewers for full entry to her site. JenniCam was one of the first web sites that continuously and voluntarily surveyed a private life. Her first webcam contained only black-and-white images of her in the dorm room. JenniCam attracted up to four million views a day at its peak.
At times during the first couple of years of JenniCam, Ringley performed stripteases for the webcam. This continued until an incident occurred wherein she was discovered by a group of hackers on Efnet who teased her for their own amusement. After she reacted humorously to their taunts, JenniCam was hacked, and Ringley received death threats. The hackers turned out to be approximately 100 people including a handful of teen pranksters, but Ringley did no more stripteases after that.
Initially, the camera tended to be turned off during especially private moments, but eventually this custom was abandoned, and images were captured of Ringley engaging in sex.
In May 1997, Ringley graduated from Dickinson with a Bachelor of Arts in Economics.
When Ringley moved to Washington, D.C. in 1998, she added webcams to cover the additional living space (four webcams captured images of her life). She began charging for access to her site, allowing both paid and free access with the paid access updating the images more frequently than the free access. She added more pages to her website that included pictures of her cats and ferrets. Her site was doing well as she stayed home and claimed her profession to be a "web designer" for her site.
As Ringley attracted a following both on and off the Internet, more than 100 media outlets from The Wall Street Journal to Modern Ferret ran features. Ringley owned several ferrets and Modern Ferret featured Jenni and one of her pets on the front cover. As an actress, she was cast in "Rear Windows '98," a 1998 episode of the TV series Diagnosis Murder, portraying Joannecam, a fictionalized version of herself. She also hosted her own Internet talk show titled The Jennishow on The Sync, an early webcasting network based in Laurel, Maryland.
Ringley's standard of living improved with a new larger apartment, expensive furniture and several business trips to Amsterdam with her accountant. She claimed that the experience improved her self-image and self body image. Ringley began to take trips to visit other cam girls, including Ana Voog of Anacam.com.
At the height of her popularity, an estimated three to four million people watched JenniCam.org daily. She eventually purchased the domain jennicam.com as well. She appeared July 31, 1998 as a guest on the Late Show with David Letterman. At the end of the interview, and even after having been corrected once, Letterman plugged the site as Jennicam.net instead of the correct Jennicam.com (Ringley owned both Jennicam.com and Jennicam.org). People visiting the previously non-existent Jennicam.net found a pornographic site with the greeting, "Thanks Dave".
When Ringley moved to Sacramento, California, she documented the boxing of her possessions with free live streaming and full audio. Ringley received some criticism from fans when she became involved with Dex, a man who was the fiancé of a fellow webcammer and friend who helped her move to California.
Ringley worked for a web developer after a brief stint as a case worker for a social services agency in Sacramento. Out of the public eye, she stated, "I really am enjoying my privacy now. I don't have a web page; I don't have a MySpace page. It's a completely different feeling, and I think I'm enjoying it."
In December 2014, Ringley spoke to the podcast Reply All about her experiences with Jennicam; the podcast noted that Jenny "is almost entirely absent from the Internet ... just the way she likes it."
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- "Tales from the Net". This American Life. Episode 66. 16 minutes in. NPR.
Conversation with Jennifer Ringley