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Cruising the Community

Cruising the Community

February 22, 2006
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" gay webmasters often held to a belief that you had to be especially responsive to your audience "

It was 10 years ago, when I first placed our sex listings on the Internet. There was no business plan behind it, and no notions that I would actually earn a living from this. I'm sure that wasn't a particularly unique perspective back then. At the time, no one seemed to be making money from the Internet and the first web browser had just hit the market.

Many of the original gay male adult websites including my site, CruisingForSex.com, were what I would call hobby sites. My hobby was public sex: meeting guys in parks, at the beach, in a toilet, at a video arcade or bathhouse. It was and still remains a very common activity among sexually active gay and bisexual men. A print guide had been available for years listing cruising locales, but only when the listings went online did a more immediate and up-to-date resource become available. It was a perfect example of how the Internet could be made useful for sharing knowledge.

Startup costs were minimal in those early days, making this a very low-risk investment. By 1997, I was convinced I could turn my hobby into an income. Leaving my day job, I gave myself six months to turn a profit. It only took four months. That same year, Bedfellow went online as did AbsolutelyMale.com, MountEquinox.com and Badpuppy had launched even earlier than I did, first going online in May 1995.

For a very long time, the gay male end of the porn world was largely ignored by the much larger straight segment; whether it was homophobia or lack of interest (likely a bit of both), gay male adult sites in those early years were usually operated almost exclusively by gay people. These pioneers looked at what they saw on the straight side and some decided to copy it, merely substituting dicks for boobs. Others believed gay men might have different expectations for a website and set about not trying to mimic the straight side but to do it from a gay perspective.

By gay perspective, I don't just mean the choice to use pastel backgrounds with black text rather than black backgrounds with screaming red text. This perspective had roots among gay men who had spent years seeking to build a sense of community. Very often that community was built around sexual desire.

Because of this, gay webmasters often held to a belief that you had to be especially responsive to your audience. Many of the earliest gay sites refused to participate in so many of the ploys and tricks used by some industry players that eventually gave us all a bad name. While we all understood that most of the guys who came to our sites ultimately wanted to get off, we felt they'd stick around longer and come back more often if we built online communities.

I sought to do this by encouraging my audience to actively participate. After all, a website built around a database of every known place that men frequent for sexual encounters had to get its information from somewhere. I made a pact with the men who visited the site: You give me the information about where you have sex, and I'll place it online for other men to see. It worked so well that now we have tens of thousands of listings constantly being updated with more recent information from seemingly every corner of the globe. For years, even after I began hiring staff, we intentionally kept the appearance of being a one-man operation so the men who used our site would feel a personal connection to my persona, a creation known as the "Cruisemaster."

Refined Niche Focus
The term "mega site" was openly used to describe the offerings of many of the early sites including Bedfellow, Chisel and Badpuppy. They posted galleries of older men, twinks, hairy guys, hairless youth, military men, blacks, Latinos — if it had a dick, you'd probably see it online at one of these pioneering websites. Other webmasters looking at this believed a more refined focus could work better. The debut of HardnStraight.com back in 1997 marked a milestone for gay male adult websites, departing from the belief that building community required you to be all things to all gay men. The ongoing fascination gay men have with supposedly unattainable straight guys emerged as the premier niche content and remains so to this day. A check of the top 10 gay sites as listed at PornResource.com turned up six out of the top 10 sites as being mostly about straight guys becoming sex objects for the amusement of a gay audience. It is an ironic twist to the longstanding belief that straight sites exploit women for the pleasure of a male audience, when in fact the fastest-growing segment in the gay market focuses on straight guys having to suck a cock.

For years some members of the industry have been predicting the death of the mega site, but in reality they don't appear to be going away. Badpuppy continues to have a ranking that places it in the top 10 (again from Porn Resource). Newbies to the Internet still flock to mega sites, but the more seasoned surfer often will have a more refined taste and, at least as important, they'll have figured out how to find sites that specialize in their desires. Since newbie's eventually become more sophisticated, it would seem that all gay males would tend to move on from their original mega site membership, heading over to a site that gives them only the type of man that more closely resembles their particular fantasy.

Sites such as ActiveDuty.com, Corbin-Fisher.com and SeanCody.com are either surpassing the memberships of mega sites or soon will. You'd have thought the mega sites would catch on and create their own niche sites, but for the most part it would seem that whenever they attempt to do this, the real purpose is to feed niche traffic back to the mother ship.

Make Way For Straight
Meanwhile, the straight adult market took some years, but eventually they began trying to capture a gay audience. In those initial first steps, it was often full of mistakes, and even now, it is often not that successful. I remember going to my share of Internext shows and being introduced to what one could only call the token gay guy hired by the straight outfit to pave the way for a straight player to grab some market share.

Gay webmasters were not always glad to see this. Some of this can be attributed to a natural reaction to protect a turf that was once exclusively our own. There are now thousands of gay male adult websites, covering just about every niche and need you can imagine.

Porn Resource lists 733 websites as gay sites, a number that is very likely only a small portion of the total number of online sites pursuing the gay market.

Niche sites have played a particularly vital role in keeping gay male adult sites fresh and somewhat unique at a time when so much seemed to never change.

For years we've relied on photo galleries, increasingly on video clips especially among niche sites and an assortment of plugins from content providers who offered live voyeur sites and sex shows.

What we needed, what all of us were waiting for, was to have the technology catch up with what we wanted to do. This appears to be happening right now.

I recently looked at some statistics about those visiting CruisingForSex.com and was surprised to read that fully 63 percent were using a high-speed connection.

The growing prevalence of faster connections mean all of us can now take a greater risk at relying on delivering content that depends on newer, often faster technology. Taking our sites to cellphones, Playstations and iPods is one piece of this future, so porn can truly be available on demand.

Who knows, but I'm sure one day we will look back on the first gay male adult sites from these first 10 years and think how quaint but also how limiting they were.

Keith Griffith is founder and owner of CFS, a New Orleans-based business that owns numerous gay male websites including CruisingForSex.com, CFSPorn.com, and CruisingForDicks.com.


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