February 23, 2007 4:00 AM PST
A social site where Webcams rule
Now, imagine hundreds of similar live video feeds of strangers--Jenni's and Johnny's alike--broadcasting from their rooms to a single social network, and that's Stickam.com.
The spirit of JenniCam--which went offline in 2003--is apparently thriving in Los Angeles-based Stickam, a year-old social networking service that urges members to connect with others via live Webcams and instant chat. Because rivals like MySpace won't allow Webcams for security concerns, Stickam appeals to exhibitionists and others who want a freer environment to post personal profiles and chat live, with a camera in their face.
But Stickam is trying to transcend the novelty--and potential pitfalls--of strangers' bedrooms and build an empire bigger than MySpace or YouTube. One of its plans is to add live video feeds of celebrities, musicians and even magicians. In one example, Stickam plans to pipe in live video from a camera at Prince's Oscar afterparty on Sunday, said Scott Flacks, a vice president at Stickam. (The final details are still being worked out, he added.)
In addition, Stickam is building a production studio in Los Angeles to create original video for the site, and it's in talks with Hollywood studios about content partnerships.
One planned show will feature exclusive video from Hollywood's Magic Castle, a members-only club where magicians perform for invited audiences. The company has already featured behind-the-scenes videos of American Idol's Bo Bice and video feeds from the Sundance film festival. It also had a live video chat with musicians Stu Stone and Jamie Kennedy (in partnership with Warner Bros. Entertainment Group), during which 10,000 Stickam members showed up.
"Our goal is to start to create compelling experiences that keep users immersed--like fun, live events," said Flacks, who previously worked at Fox Interactive Media, the parent company of MySpace. "It takes social networking to the next obvious level: not just photos and video, but being able to chat live and reach out in a more personal way."
The start-up's quest for the limelight is not unlike the struggles of many new Web media companies trying to succeed in the shadow of MySpace and YouTube. Stickam, like others, is trying to appeal to the changing habits of a generation growing up with broadband video, instant chat and virtual environments. And yet it's trying to carve out a niche not yet claimed by the Internet giants, and capitalizing on that early.
For Stickam, the strategy is to act even more nimble than predecessors MySpace and YouTube, which have both been absorbed by larger entities Fox (owned by News Corp.) and Google, respectively.
"Fox's still trying to discover how to provide features to users of MySpace and keep it on the straight and narrow from a corporate governance standpoint," Flacks said."We're a little bit more svelte, a little bit more relaxed. It's not a free-for-all, be we want to provide an experience."
Still, what happens on live video cameras can make parent safety groups and even Stickam members squeamish. The site requires that members be at least 14 years old, and bars obscene or indecent behavior. But because enforcing those restrictions can be difficult, if not impossible, with live video, questionable behavior appears common, according to a quick survey of the site.
One user called "nataliemuffin" says upfront in her profile that she will ban anyone who exposes themselves to her or asks her to expose herself. "I don't usually kick, I ban," she said. "Another one of my peevs is people who come into my room and are over 30. If you're over 30 and you're reading this, please leave my page."
Member "bina," a teen girl, also says upfront not to ask her to get naked or for "cybersex."
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