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When Jennifer Ringley picked up a webcam at her college book store in 1996, she had no way of knowing she'd serve as the catalyst for an industry that's been estimated to pull in more than $1 billion in revenue annually.Just two years earlier, Connectix, a small peripheral maker released the Quick Cam, a digital camera that sat on top of your Apple's Macintosh and delivered 320-x-240 black-and-white images at 15 frames per second for $100.
She rigged her webcam to constantly record candid stills from inside her dorm room and upload a new image every 15 minutes to her site, She arrived at our interview on a sweltering Friday morning in a hotel suite on the Las Vegas strip with a small entourage of two other budding social media influencers, Amber Vixx and Stefanie Joy (also not their names).After our interview, she and her friends will probably hit the pool at a local apartment complex and do what millennials do: eat pizza and play out their lives in front of tiny, portable cameras.Clinton Cox, founder of Havoc Media and Cam Con, a "model convention" focused on webcamming and other forms of social media, got his start in the early days of commercialized live streaming video.At the time, large webcamming studios were being built across the US, Latin America and Eastern Europe, churning out 24-hour streams from sometimes hundreds of models per day.She appeared in profiles for major media organizations and eventually made a much-cited appearance on David Letterman's show.
But for all of the mainstream hype, Jennicam's appeal was decidedly NSFW.
He says that at the peak of that project, the studio network shot 250 models per day.
Marco Ducati, a stout, muscular webcam model and adult film star, got his start camming at a Flirt4Free studio in Los Angeles 11 years ago."At the time I was going to school and working construction," he says.
Despite its success, Ringley took Jennicam offline in 2003, following a sex scandal in which she hooked up with a fellow lifecaster's boyfriend on camera.
The following year Facebook was born and over the next decade, live streaming video would become a cornerstone of mainstream social media.
Like Instagram influencers or You Tube makers, today's webcam models need little more than a strong Wi Fi connection and an internet-connected camera to make a living.