A Look at Cybersocket
"Our idea initially was to publish a book of information that repackaged public domain information," Sommer said. "We decided to focus on a niche market in order to give our new publication an identity that stood out from the massive amounts of printed material in the marketplace. So we came up with our annual Cybersocket Directory."
It was a labor of faith and a lot of hard work. "We were self-driven and unpaid," Sommer said. "Once we had everything organized, we put the information into a Quark file and put together the first edition."
The couple decided soon after that they were on to something. "We knew it would be successful after the first round of sales for the first directory," Sommer said. "We sold enough to support ourselves, reinvest in the next year and upgrade some of our equipment."
Not long after, a friend pointed out that their information would be much more useful and searchable if it were a website, so Blakey St. John, a longtime employee and webmaster for the company, exported the organized data to the Internet and turned it into a search engine. St. John later partnered with Sommer and Lutz to found Bionic Pixels, now Sector 33 Consulting, a web design and development company.
That was in 1997. Since then, Cybersocket has evolved into a leading search engine, the producer of several email newsletters, a best-selling annual guide to the GLBT Internet and publisher of the largest freely distributed gay print magazine in the U.S.
The print magazine alone has a monthly circulation of 70,000 readers and a level of popularity that has gathered together a large number of gay-oriented businesses and more than a few adult industry executives.
"Morgan, Tim and all the folks at Cybersocket have been very good to me over the years, both when I worked at Falcon Studios and now as the new owner of COLT Studios," John Rutherford, president and creative director of COLT, said. "Cybersocket brings together other like-minded gay online businesses and webmasters from all over the world that otherwise might not have the opportunity to meet or get to know each other."
The popularity of Cybersocket also means its content can have a major influence on the marketing decisions of industry studios. San Francisco's Treasure Island Media started its official company blog after having its writing complimented in Cybersocket's "20 Sexiest Blogs" March issue.
"A one-paragraph mention was enough to convince us to start a regular blog — and we turned out to be the first studio to maintain one," Saul Austin, Treasure Island's public relations director, said. "Now we have a really strong readership."
The fact that Treasure Island Media was mentioned in the magazine at all — much less complimented — says something about the magazine's political stance.
"We avoid politics like the plague in our editorial with the exception of maintaining our right to freedom of expression," Sommer said. "We are an entertainment company not a community activist."
Cybersocket's annual Web Awards grew from a combination of the company's constantly evolving search engine and growing popularity among the GLBT Internet community.
"The awards process was initially a method of gauging the popularity of various sites," Sommer said. "It has evolved somewhat since then."
It has evolved quite a bit, actually. Now in its sixth year, the awards ceremony is a three-night event honoring outstanding GLBT websites in 48 categories, 19 industry picks and 29 surfer picks.
"It's mainly recognition — a pat on the back by your peers in the industry and your fans," Sommer said. "Simply being nominated gets you some press, but it's not hierarchical."
Looking toward the future, Sommer sees many aspects of the industry still untapped.
"We're going to be focusing more on direct-to-consumer events and less on business-to-business events in 2006," he said. "They do more for the consumer, and by connecting with the consumer, they do more for our advertisers. We'll still attend one or two B2B events, but it won't be an every-other-month schedule."
Meanwhile, the offices of Cybersocket's West Hollywood, Calif. digs are bustling with a clutch of faithful, longstanding employees and dogs, dogs, dogs, including two beagles belonging to Sommer and Lutz.
In addition to the trio of Sommer, Lutz and St. John, the company has as many as 15 people on staff, many of whom work with sister Cybersocket companies such as Sector 33 Creative and JuicyGoo.com, a porn blog.
"The GLBT Internet is booming," Sommer said. "The adult sites are the ones making money, which isn't to say that the non-adult sites aren't also important. They help create a sense of community for people who live in a small town and wouldn't otherwise feel that they're part of a larger whole."