JenniCam is fading to black.
Seven years after she set up a Web camera in her dorm room to let thousands of Internet users watch her brush her teeth, do her homework and sleep, Jennifer Ringley is shutting down the site that became one of the first sensations of the online age.
Ringley, now 27 and living outside Sacramento, posted the news on www.jennicam.org, saying the site would go dark Dec. 31. She did not give a reason, and attempts to reach her by phone and e-mail Wednesday were unsuccessful.
But PayPal, a company that processed donations to her site, offered a clue. In Ringley’s quest to show every aspect of her daily life, she frequently revealed too much for PayPal.
“There was some frontal nudity on the site that violates our policy,” said Amanda Tires, a spokeswoman for PayPal, a Mountain View, Calif., subsidiary of online auction house EBay Inc. So PayPal canceled Ringley’s account. “Pretty straightforward,” Tires said.
JenniCam had subscribers who paid $15 a month to get snapshots every minute from live cameras. Ringley had insisted that the fees covered only her expenses and that she made no money on the site, which she once described as a “human zoo.” (Visitors can get a free snapshot every 15 minutes.)
Exhibitionist art has been around for years, but Ringley was one of the first to exploit the Internet’s potential to turn the masses into voyeurs. Those who logged on to her site were treated to the quotidian (Jenni making her bed) and the salacious (Jenni romping in that bed with her friend’s fiance).
“JenniCam is one of the great examples of Web art,” said sociologist Julian Dibbell, who writes about Internet culture and is author of “My Tiny Life.” “Her exercise may not have been so high-minded, but it was certainly more gripping and smarter than anything that came out of art or television. It’s certainly more honest and committed.”
Vanity cams, Dibbell said, follow a history of exhibitionism and performance art. For instance, Yoko Ono, widow of John Lennon, in a 1964 performance called “Cut Piece” invited members of the audience to snip off pieces of her clothing using scissors provided by the theater.
Whether JenniCam is art is up for debate.
“Certainly there’s an entire porn industry that’s popped up from that, not to mention reality TV shows,” said technology analyst Rob Enderle.
Whereas some regard Ringley’s project as an innovative form of expression and a precursor to reality television, others see the site as light porn or just plain silly.
“As a young man, you went there thinking she’s exploring all these boundaries and potentials,” said Justin Hall, who started one of the first Web diaries in 1994. “But in the back of your head you’re thinking, ‘Gee, I hope she shows her [breasts].’ It was the pornography of potential. It was a tease.”