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Mark and I are working together again. We started over a decade ago, using a spare bedroom in our San Francisco home, chatting with strangers on an old Mac, using software developed at a daily pace.
Gay.com's success was the result of a perfect storm of synchronicity. We bought the "gay.com" URL/domain in 1994, not knowing how we'd use it - although we assumed we'd develop some kind of business online. We always talked about being business partners, and the Web was just beginning to grow in the SF Bay Area.
Mark had a friend who developed software. He was coding night and day on a program that Web visitors could use to chat with each other, using their PCs.
"You can test your chat program on our domain." "We're not using it for anything yet." "Let's see what happens..."
After we got it set-up, people who visited Gay.com would see a Welcome Page, with a button that said "CHAT". Those who clicked on the button were lead into a simple page with a list of chat rooms. Entering the room would put you with at least 5 people and as many as 27.
We called the project the "Gay.com Chat House" - it was a virtual house made-up of chat rooms.
We didn't advertise the project or promote it in any way. The obvious URL allowed the chat community to grow, as gays and lesbians curiously typed "gay" into their browsers daily - and every night - since we opened the virtual doors. The number of visitors grew quickly each day. And we chatted with each one. As we became more sophisticated in online community management, we described Gay.com's success as "organic growth".
It was an exiciting time for us. We'd been together for about 3 years - still in the honeymoon stage. We had our dog, Zeus, downstairs with us. And we were passionate about our Chat House. We worked nights and weekends in our bathrobes and sweats - thinking this "chat thing" might just work. We kept our day jobs in case it didn't.
We quickly developed a core group of chat room visitors - both men and women - from around the world. Reaching-out to other gays and lesbians across the globe, at any time of day, for FREE? Our minds were being stretched in ways we never thought possible. And everyone was having fun with our brave new world.
This was happening during the Web's innocence - gay men and lesbians were chatting about their daily lives in the chat rooms. We were playing trivia games. We chatted about local politics. This was before the Internet was used for hook-ups. No hook-ups back then. There was a better chance of meeting someone in a chat room from another state as opposed to your town or city. It was just good clean fun with the people like you - world's away.
More and more people came to the Chat House. And they kept coming back. Our site became "sticky" - as the advertisers call it - and Gay.com took-off like a rocket! Our challenge was to hang-on tightly for the ride.
Here's a pic of us circa 1990, confirming our place in Hell, at St. Peter's Basilica, Rome.