***The Road to Loungeville***
a tale of webcams, digital intimacy, and love
A long time ago, on a desktop far, far away, Little Halcyon was playing with his webcam.
Most personal sites with webcams were set up with a “click
here to pop my refreshing cam image” link.
But I didn’t want to just be viewed from the outside; I wanted to invite people into my room. So I attached a chatroom to the page where my webcam was. It was set up so that if someone loaded the page, they would automatically be dropped into the chatroom. You didn’t have to log in to the room; you simply appeared there as “anonymous.”
For many people, it was the first time they experienced the web as interactive (as opposed to some warped version of TV to be passively viewed.)
After a while, a group of people began hanging out in this room.
At first they visited to chat with me, but eventually, the people who stopped by began to know and love each other. The virtual space of the room existed as a place to meet…even when I wasn’t around. Real, loving relationships began to form in this group that called themselves the Teacosy crew. (named after a style of hat I fancy.)
The magnificent Jan and wild Cassie were main organizers of the Teacosy crew and eventually even created teacosy.net to further build the experience. It was a place of silliness and sexiness and fun. And it was my first experience with a true digital space.
At this time, I was working at CollegeClub. Some coworkers of mine began stopping by the virtual space and were blown away by the Teacosy crew. “Something amazing is happening there,” Adam said.
Dmitry convinced the powers that be to let us build a webcam community within collegeclub. So, we copied the format of the webcam/chatroom that I had created and made it accessible to the million members of collegeclub.com. A “Hive” of interactivity sprung up. When you allow multiple people with webcams each to have their own virtual space, you create a digital neighborhood. You could cruise door to door and see who was “home.”
Of course, since CollegeClub was a college site it has inherent limitations. I was approaching 30, I just won a Webby for cockybastard.com and I was itchin’ to move on.
Dmitry, Adam, and Jason left CollegeClub at about the same time. At some point we decided that we wanted to take this concept of webcams and digital space even further.
The idea for CitizenX was born. We all brainstormed how the community would work. I laid out the designs and graphics, Jason did the coding. Adam and Dmitry figured out ways to pay for the place.
I wrote to Jan, who ran Teacosy.net:
The welcome message of this new community was:
In addition to the conscious vibe cultivation, and the integration of streaming video, I think one of the coolest innovations was the lounge idea. Webcams went from being a voyeur/exhibitionist thing to being a tool for connecting time and space. Many smiling faces could meet in a virtual space. The “cyberspace” that the internet had promised for so many years was finally a reality!
We invited the original Teacosy crew and select friends. With no marketing, the site grew quickly. It was a good time for internet businesses and we convinced some nice old men to give us some money. We bought servers and rack space and even had paychecks for a couple months.
We organized a group of "Ambassadors." These active members were critical in maintaining the hug-filled vibe of the community.
Then the Internet Economy collapsed. It became impossible to find funds to keep the project alive. Our hopes of becoming the next AOL dissipated. Adam, Dmitry, and Jason had bills to pay so CX became an after-work hobby for us.
We met on weekends and evenings. We worked for free. To date we have used over $30,000 of our own money and countless labor hours to keep the servers alive. It isn’t a business investment, it is love.
There is no corporate offices. There is no boardroom. There are no healthcare benefits. There are just 4 guys who work in their bedrooms after hours and meet at Denny’s.
When we started CX, Community was a valuable commodity. Large community sites were being valued at millions of bucks. The Internet crash changed that. So, when it became obvious that community in and of itself was not a value (and therefore nobody wanted to invest), we had to look for moneymaking opportunities.
We had a disastrous partnership with iVista. We had some flimsy banner-ad deals. Then we tried a partnership with TheRealHouse.com.
It seemed like a good match: A large webcam community and a webcam house with a built-in pay-model. TRH would share the profits with CX. And we all live happily ever after.
Heck, I could even move into the webcam house! Imagine! Combining the two would allow for historic things! Virtual Spaces taken to the extreme! The House could be a hub for world wide virtual gatherings.
Unfortunately, the number of subscribers never grew. There was an initial jump, but not enough to generate much cash for CitizenX.
6) GlobalNetVillage and Tribespace
Then the money ran out. We tried everything. A very cool "taxes" system kept the place alive for a while. But eventually, the hosting was shut off.
I moved out of TheRealHouse and got distracted by a new job.
Two noble souls (Devious and Larr) built substitute webcam communities: Globalnetvillage.com and Tribespace.com.
Two years later (July 4, 2004), we have resurrected yet another incarnation of that digital intimacy playground.
We welcome all smile-filled souls to be citizens!
6) Digital Intimacy
Since we started, we've been pushing the definitions of virtual spaces.
We've experimented with some specific, more focussed digital "events."
And I think the world is starting to get it:
This is cool stuff. And its just the iceberg's tip, I think. Digital Spaces will be real and safe for the masses very soon...and citizenX is where the test pilots hang out.
The site has gone through its share of troubles and continues to have major limitations. Even so, I think what we have created is amazing. CitizenX has exceeded my dreams and reshaped the way I visualize the potential of the net.
No matter what happens, we should all be proud of what we have done. We have trail blazed the digital frontier. We have endured scrapes and bruises. We have loved and laughed online in ways deeper than I thought possible through a cold little monitor. I truly believe that the future of online communication will be shaped by the digital spaces of CitizenX.