Pioneering Webcam exhibitionist Jennifer Ringley, the "Jenni" in JenniCam, is paying a price for stealing her best friend's boyfriend in full view of thousands of outraged fans. Her Peeping-Tom followers are elbowing each other aside to spew stinging Jenni insults on public message boards and, even worse, some are proclaiming the end of their relationships with the 23-year-old Web designer who has captured more eyeballs than most Web marketers can dream of.
"I watched this train wreck for over two years and enjoyed it," wrote Benji LeFevre, a JenniCam fan in Fitchburg, Mass., in a posting on the JenniCam Fan Forum section of the Peeping Moe site. And, he said, he's not renewing his $15 annual subscription. (JenniCam subscriptions are more like donations, buying access to the same content as nonmember visitors, just with the feeds refreshed more often.) "I will no longer support someone who is so evil as to humiliate a friend in such a public way."
Many of Jenni's followers have been burning up with flames against her since early July, when the likably ditzy strawberry blond became romantically involved with Dex, formerly of Dex and Courtney. Courtney was Jenni's close friend, another webcam babe who helped Jenni relocate to a house across the yard from her own, in Sacramento, Calif., in April.
Now Jenni is getting slammed as a "money-grubbing hoe" in love with a "Mr. Jiffy Pop Hairbelly'' in postings on the message boards at the Peeping Moe, a site that caters to "the discriminating voyeur." Jenni is "being porked by an ugly wookie in two-minute bursts," writes another steamed-up fan, who calls JenniCam a "filthy, slimy, trailer trash, Leeza Show excuse for porn."
Even so, Jenni's recent story line of love, sex and betrayal is stirring up renewed interest in what is, at this point, a 5-year-old webcam site now competing for attention with such reality TV hits as "Survivor," along with scads of amateur exhibitionist sites. JenniCam's traffic has been lagging well behind CBS' Bigbrother2000.com with its 1.2 million unique users last week, and voyeurdorm.com, a popular amateur webcam site with 413,000 unique users. But, according to PC Data Online, traffic to the JenniCam site jumped 40 percent between the pre-Dex first week of July and the last weeks of the month; it drew 193,000 unique users the week that ended July 29.
This should be good news for Jenni, who surely wouldn't mind signing up more subscribers. She recently told a Sacramento newspaper she was $20,000 in debt. In press accounts, Jenni maintains that the $15 annual subscription fees she collects simply offset the costs of computer equipment and fees to operate the site, but one imagines she wouldn't mind profiting from her exhibitionism. (Jenni didn't respond to e-mail requests for an interview.)
Besides, it's been a while since Jenni's been in the news. She already has made appearances on "Late Night with David Letterman" and the "Today Show," but this summer's explosive JenniFlap could easily extend her 15 minutes of fame.
"Scandal-plus-sex is a pretty unbeatable combination, for traffic," says Jorn Barger, creator of the Robot Wisdom weblog and a Jennicam fan. "As for reputation, I don't think it will have any long-term negative impact. I think in general it's a great privilege to be able to watch someone's life, even (or especially) when they make mistakes. And falling in love is always top-notch drama, whenever and wherever and however it happens."
Some think the love affair is such high drama, that it must be a fake. And given that in just a few weeks, a trio of characters has managed to play out the antics of an entire season's worth of "Dynasty," you do have to wonder.
Goings-on in the last three weeks include hurt accusations from the betrayed friend; Jenni's journal scribbles gushing over her new lover -- "He is a miracle to me, he is the sky opening up and the sun shining down, he is the rich earth underneath my feet and underneath my fingernails"; and video images of Jenni and her new man having sex. Anyone can visit the site free of charge to be treated to real-time camera views with a 15-minute refresh rate, including (at least one morning) images of Jenni and her new beau splayed on the sheets, asleep.
Jenni also started streaming video and audio on the Here and Now site on July 24, though Jenni says she's agreed not to have live sex on the stream. Still, a listener to the audio portion says Jenni's online orgasmic moans sound like the final scene in the "Blair Witch Project." Ouch.
Imagine how Courtney must feel. In her Web journal, she describes waking up early one day to notice her man was gone: "I had this sick sick sick feeling inside me like I'm already knowing the events that are about to transpire ... And Dex and Jennifer tell me that they have fallen in love."
Courtney, who once posted an invitation to the wedding ceremony she and Dex were planning for November, says she tried to check herself into a mental hospital that day and has been in a slow recovery ever since; she says Jenni hasn't spoken to her since she started hanging with Dex.
Meanwhile, Jenni is on a cloud. From her journal of July 28: "For those who understand, no explanation is necessary. For those who do not, no explanation will suffice. We are in love. I find it hard to believe that two people have ever felt so strongly about each other before." She goes on to describe her new tattoo of Dex's name on her ring finger, and their idyllic plans to move in to a rented house in the countryside together.
Such revelations may attract some new voyeurs, but at least a dozen JenniCam fans on the Peeping Moe message boards say they won't be going along to the new digs. The venom is flowing on the alt.fan.jennicam newsgroup as well. Jenni recently disconnected her site's link to the Peeping Moe, where fans now gripe that it was to distance herself from their disapproval.
But Jenni may not care very much. She's young and in love and maybe she really has found the "soulmate" she claims. Dex, as she describes him in her July 12 journal entry, seems to understand and embrace her public life. "Streaming video is coming this weekend," she writes, and "he isn't afraid. In fact, he's perfectly fine with it -- we will be public love. JenniCam, instead of being a window into my regular boring life, will be a window into love. I'm convinced it will utterly ooze through the Internet."