rogue

Jennifer Ringley was the first woman to broadcast her life on the internet. Until she disappeared.

In 1996, Jennifer Ringley became the first woman to broadcast her life on the internet when she switched on her webcam in her Pennsylvania college dorm room.

At first, it was an experiment in real-time documentary.

The website Jenni launched, titled Jennicam, was updated with a grainy, still, black-and-white image from inside her dorm room every 15 minutes, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“It was basically a programming challenge to myself to see if I could set up the script that would take the pictures, upload them to this site,” Jenni told the Reply All podcast in 2015.

“I shared it with a couple of friends, kinda ‘look, I got this working.'”

But before long, the 19-year-old’s experiment went from being seen only by her friends, to becoming one of the most popular websites on the internet.

Jennicam’s Jennifer Ringley on the Late Show With David Letterman in 1998. Post continues below.

For years, Jenni broadcast her daily life to whoever wanted to click. From the mundane moments to the occasional glimpses of nudity and even incredibly private moments, the college student shared it all.

“The first time one boyfriend and I did start kissing, the site went down pretty much immediately from too much load,” Jenni told Reply All. “And once he realised that just kissing has overloaded the site, he didn’t come back into my room again. No one wanted to be on it, nobody wanted to come into my room.”

For most of the time, the stream of photos were often just of an empty room as Jenni was in class. At other times, she was seen browsing the internet, sitting on her bed studying, doing laundry, brushing her teeth, masturbating, or reading a book.

And yet, despite the incredibly mundane nature of the website, at its peak, seven million people tuned in to watch the daily updates of Jenni’s life.

“I am not an actor or dancer or entertainer,” the college student’s website read at the time, according to news.com.au.

“JenniCam is virtually unedited and uncensored. Except for camera-shy guests (whose wishes I humbly and happily respect, and hope you will too), and places the cameras can’t reach, nothing is cut.

“Consider yourself warned: We are not always at home, sometimes you may see an empty house for hours or longer at a stretch. That’s life. Or I may be working at my computer, watching television, or being intimate. You may see nothing but cats all day long.

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“I keep JenniCam alive not because I want to be watched, but because I simply don’t mind being watched. It is more than a bit fascinating to me as an experiment.”

jennicam
Image: YouTube.

Within just a few years of launching her website, Jenni became the online world's first real phenomenon. In fact, Jennicam quickly propelled Jennifer Ringley to unprecedented fame.

"Somebody at a newspaper in Australia heard about it and wrote an article about it, and pretty immediately things went crazy," Jenni told Reply All.

At the website's peak, Jenni appeared in major newspapers around the world, had a cameo appearance on detective show Diagnosis Murder, was profiled on This American Life, and was even a guest on the Late Show with David Letterman in 1998.

"This will replace television," Letterman said during the appearance.

"This is what people want. People are lonely and desperate. They want to see life somewhere else. It's comforting," he added.

"This is the best idea I've heard for that silly internet thing."

jennicam
Jennifer Ringley on The Late Show with David Letterman. Image: YouTube.
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Of course, Letterman wasn't too far off.

Today, in a world full of Instagram, live streaming, Facebook, Twitter and Big Brother, it's hard to imagine something like Jennicam gaining the traction that it did in 1996 in 2019.

But yet, 23 years ago, in 1996, Jennicam was ordinary and extraordinary, and as the years went on, her viewership continued to grow.

As the experiment progressed, Jenni introduced multiple new cameras and increased the photo rate from 15 minutes to three minutes. She even began charging viewers through PayPal for "premium" access to her image uploads.

In 2000, however, Jenni's downfall began.

After moving to Sacramento with the help of a fellow cam girl, Jenni slept with the cam girl's fiance – on camera.

On forums at the time, viewers called her a "homewrecker" and a "phoney" and The Washington Post even labelled her an "amoral man trapper".

Soon after, Jenni and the woman's fiance began a relationship. As they moved in together, their relationship was broadcast online.

Listen to Mamamia's daily news podcast, The Quicky, below. Post continues after podcast.

Speaking to Reply All, Jenni shared that she stayed in the relationship much longer than she intended to.

"I ended up staying in that relationship for a lot longer than I would have because I felt like, I really really went out of my way to make this happen so I’m not just going to give up. So I definitely thought there was more of a weight of responsibility on me to try harder," she said.

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Eventually, following the end of Jenni's relationship, Jennifer Ringley disappeared from the internet.

In late 2003, Jennicam went dark.

At the time, Jenni cited PayPal's anti-nudity policy for her decision to shut down the site. It's clear, however, that the need for privacy was also a major factor.

jennicam
Image: YouTube.

Today, Jenni has no internet presence. In fact, she has no Facebook, no Instagram, no Twitter and no website.

Now 42 years old, Jenni goes by the name Jennifer Johnson, after taking her husband's name. It's believed she works as a computer programmer in Sacramento, California.

"I really am enjoying my privacy now," Jenni told VH-1 in 2007.

"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."

Feature Image: YouTube.


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