Her life is just an open Web site Exhibitionism: With a camera in her bedroom, a 21-year-old woman has turned her day-to-day existence into a hobby for hundreds of thousands of Web crawlers.

May 13, 1998|By Jonathan Weisman | Jonathan Weisman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Jennifer Ringley is spending a lot of time these days playing down the sex thing.

Never mind that she and her boyfriend, Geofry Glenn, are watching an erotic art flick from India, or that her chosen wardrobe for a recent magazine profile photo consisted mainly of fishnet stockings, or that her Web site features sections titled "Name That Curve" and "Anatomy One-Oh-One." Her fame, she insists, has very little to do with her sexuality.

"Every time you read an article, it's like, woo-hoo, you can see Jenni having sex or getting naked," she grumbles, sounding not quite as annoyed as she would have liked. "It makes me sound like Jenni is, you know, sex-o-rama cam."

In the flesh, Ringley, a buoyant 21-year-old, comes off as just another struggling college grad, camped out in a one-bedroom Washington apartment, not quite attuned to the present as she gropes toward the future. She's never heard of Linda Tripp.

But in cyberspace, Ringley is an icon: Jenni of Jennicam fame, www.Jennicam.org, known by millions, not just by name and face, but down to the most intimate detail, the most nuanced look, the most erotic proclivity. Considering she lives in a city famed for its closed doors, her life is an open book.

Ever since she, as an awkward 18-year-old Dickinson College student, set up a digital camera in her Carlisle, Pa., dorm room, wired it to the Web, and began chronicling her every private moment, Ringley's fame in the alternate Internet universe has grown exponentially.

Her Web site is a constantly updating window on her life, or at least her bedroom. Pay $15 a year, and you get to see a new picture every two minutes. Freeload on the site's guest lounge, and you're treated to a new view three times an hour. Most often, you see an empty room and a large, unkempt wrought-iron bed. You may catch Ringley making that bed, or working at her computer, or sipping coffee or chatting with friends. You may catch other activities most of us would prefer to keep private.

By Ringley's reckoning, this most examined of lives is viewed by 750,000 people a day, 10,000 people at any given second. That may be an exaggeration. Media Metrix, a New York-based Web audience measurement company, recorded roughly 170,000 Jennicam viewers in March, more in line with Betterhealth.com than, say, Disney On-line, which reached 2.7 million people that month.

Still, the numbers aren't bad, and since March, media attention has significantly boosted the audience, Ringley said. The "Leeza" talk show was a real kick, as was an interview on National Public Radio and a cameo in Cosmopolitan. Besides, Jennicam is more than a crowd-pleaser. It has spawned a whole genre of Jenni wannabes, some run by prostitutes, some by pornographers, and some by men and women just like Jenni.

Exhibitionism pioneer

But Ringley's was the first -- if you don't count the amazing fishcam, which was trained on an aquarium, or another early camera that fed images of a soda machine onto the Web. And hers is still the most popular. A free-lance Web site designer by profession, she swears she makes no money off the site. The $15 fee just covers the $2,000 a month it takes to keep it up and running, she says.

She refuses to take advertising, which would make her a mint -- "oh, advertising is so tacky." A certain unnamed soda company recently offered her $10,000 a month to prominently display one of its products in her room, she says, and she turned it down.

"I don't want to do it for the money, because then it becomes a job, an obligation, something I have to be conscious of 24 hours a day," she explains. "This way it's fun. It's still a hobby."

In truth, her site is less sex-o-rama than an uncomfortable reflection of our own lives. We see how rarely the good stuff comes along. Yet an air of prurience hangs over her Jennicam site, the thrill, perhaps, of violation, albeit violation by invitation.

It's a public service

"If [voyeurism] is an issue, I prefer that people are coming to my Web site to see me and not sneaking to their neighbor's house and peeking in the windows," Jennifer offered, "because at least I'm OK with it."

It is the Dane of the voyeur and exhibitionist writ global, yet Ringley really does not seem all that strange, at least not in person. The camera, not much bigger than a golf ball, sits unobtrusively over her computer, easily forgotten after awhile.

It was born out of an insecurity not at all uncommon to 18-year-old women the world over, especially those like Ringley who feel insecure and unattractive. Like many other college students these days, she had set up her own personal Web site, with biographical information, favorite CDs, book recommendations, a smattering of poetry.

When somebody showed her the "fishcam" site, she had an idea.

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