As with many new technologies, webcams and webcam chat found early commercial adoption and aggressive technology advancement through use by the pornography industry. The adult industry required 'live' images and requested a Dutch developer to write a piece of software that could do this without using so called 'plugins'. This led to the birth of the 'live streaming webcam', which is
still available in various forms today.
Outfit? Check. Makeup? Check. Webcam? Check.
Welcome to tonight's show, ladies and gentlemen. Well, mostly gentlemen. Well, guys, at least. My name is Perfekt/Millie/Alice/2hot4u/sexypoet and this evening I am going to have a deep and meaningful relationship with each and every one of you currently in my chat room and watching me vamp for the live-feed camera. I'm going to smile and giggle and wink and tease you with text, and you're going to lap it up and come back every night for more.
First, a definition: a cam girl, or webcam girl, is a girl (occasionally old enough to be called 'woman') who uploads live video feeds of herself to her website or to a website set up to accomodate several cam girls at once. Personal sites usually include a chat room and wishlist, and occasionally still picture galleries and blogs or essays. Conglomerate websites seem to be almost always of an adult nature, often require membership to access, and rarely come with the wrapping paper of the personal site (see cam whore).
One of the first and best-known sites was JenniCam.org, broadcasting from April, 1996 to December, 2003. Run by Jennifer Ringley, the site broadcast her life 24 hours a day, from one camera in her college dormroom to four in her after-graduation house. Ringley's website was an attempt to document her life, and nothing was censored, including her having sex. As for why the site eventually shut down:
Jennicam.org is no more. Jennifer has shut down her site after seven years of allowing us a view into her life. I've been asked numerous times why she stopped. The only hard evidence I have is a copy of an email from her explaining that PayPal had changed their rules about adult content and wouldn't support her site any more. Beyond that I can only guess at her reasons. I imagine that the seven years of being constantly watched by the Internet community would have been a continuing stress in her life and I'm sure the flack she's received over the last year or so about her current boyfriend and her staid lifestyle haven't helped. Based on my experience with this Last Week site, I can attest to the fact that the maintenance of a high-bandwidth site with daily updates is a major complication in one's life. I think she just said to herself one day (probably the day PayPal deserted her), "Enough's enough!"
--Paul J.R. Brown, http://www.arttech.ab.ca/pbrown/jenni/jenni.html
But JenniCam, although the first, was not to be the last. In 1996, she started out alone. Before the site shut down seven years later, cam girls had become a bona fide internet phenomenon. Unfortunately, it was a phenomenon with an worrying twist. A Salon.com article from 2001 covers the growing cam girl phenomenon. Yahoo! Internet Life ran an article in 2002. Both articles include interviews with numerous cam girls, only one of whom was over the age of 20 at the time, and most of whom were under 18. The articles focussed on exposing the disturbing similarities between cam girl activities and prostitution. By the time these articles were written, the 'wish list', a public listing of things they would like strangers to buy for them, had become a staple of cam girls' sites. A surprising number of strangers actually did so, for nothing more than a glimpse of some young woman's ordinary life. The girls interviewed all said that they do not strip for the camera or take x-rated photos of themselves, but admitted to showing a little more skin as rewards for gifts or compliments.
The concerns arise from the fact that most of these teenagers do not realise that they are playing with fire. Although the wish lists provided by Amazon.com and other websites keep the wisher's address private, a quick domain registry search will usually solve that problem. The girls do not realise that by accepting gifts, they can be (at least, in the mind of the giver) obligated to reciprocate in some way, which can range from demands of 'show us your boobs' to avid fans showing up at what was assumed to be a safely secret address.
And what about the psychological effects on the cam girls themselves? Even aside from the dangers of crazed fans, displaying yourself in an effort to get the positive attention of complete strangers can't be healthy. And the girls are not fooling themselves into thinking their blogs are keeping people interested.
The girls also learn about the demands of a public life. Perfekt, who has had a site since she was 13 and is now 18, says, "Some days, I want to break my camera. I hate feeling obligated to take pictures, and yet, if you don't update your cam, it's like you're not in circulation."
-- Candy From Strangers, Salon.com
It may be a desire for fame, or just to be complimented, but it reinforces a belief that the physical aspect is all that matters. The Age refers to it as 'the downside of girl power'. The cam girls have grown up in a post-Madonna, post-Spice Girls age, where Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera make it big on looks and scandal rather than talent. They have been taught to take control of their sexuality, but not what to do with it once it's in hand. Add to this mix the fact that the vast majority of them have set up their websites and go through their routine without any parental knowledge or supervision, and the result is a recipe for emotional disaster later on in life. Most of these girls are doomed to spend the rest of their lives trying to be pretty for the camera, rather than learning how to do something that makes them happy.
- 'Cam Girls'. June 2002. Yahoo! Internet Life. (http://boingboing.net/camgirls.html)
- 'Candy From Strangers'. August 13,2001. Salon.com (http://archive.salon.com/tech/feature/2001/08/13/cam_girls/index.html)
- 'Power Undressing'. August 26, 2002. The Age. (http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2002/08/25/1030053009209.html)
- Last Week At Jenni's Place. http://www.arttech.ab.ca/pbrown/jenni/jenni.html
- Ana Clara Voog - http://www.anacam.com
- Stephanie Pakrul - http://www.stephthegeek.com/
- Maddox's (satirical) primer on becoming a cam girl - http://www.thebestpageintheuniverse.net/c.cgi?u=cam_whore
A PornQuest 2006 entry. Topic grabbed from the list on jessicapierce's scratchpad.