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“With messenger,” Nagler writes, “I could swiftly click on guys who popped up to see their photos, profile and stats, and decide off the bat whether I was aroused.” (Digital Queers founder Tom Rielly founded competitor Planet Out in 1995, which merged with in 2000.) In the 2000s, Ok Cupid and Craigslist came on the scene and, by being explicitly inclusive of gay and lesbian dating, gradually superseded these older sites.
But their forerunners deserve to be remembered as pioneering markers of a time when the world was distinctly more unwelcoming to the LGBTQ community—and how that hostility itself drove the creation of these sites and spaces, part of what Cha calls “the parallel mainstreaming of queers, nerds, and queer nerds.” Hooking up was part of the social scene, then as now, but so was simply making contact with other people that society marginalized.
Gay spaces frequently cross-pollinated with other areas of geek culture.
Multi-user dungeons, or MUDs, were an early form of online communal role-playing and collective storytelling, easily customized based on your own interests.
Those needs sped the adoption and development of online social life as we know it today.
Typical BBSs offered all-text forum discussion, legal and illegal file sharing, and chat rooms, all at excruciatingly low bandwidth: 300, then 1,200, then 2,400 baud—for reference, 300 baud is roughly the speed of a fast typist.
And while a good deal of the fantasy was G-rated, it was not uncommon for users to engage in role-playing cybersex in private chat.
Sophie, who was in college in the 1990s, created her own MOOs, or object-oriented MUDs, which allowed greater customization by players.
Mark Elderkin happened to purchase in 1994 as a personal website, only to find that he attracted a huge audience of people looking for online information; by 1996, he had relaunched the site as a chat/dating service.
At that time, existed as the first online dating site, but offered a more real-time and forward-looking experience, with the same sort of browsing and chat mechanisms familiar to Ok Cupid users today.
During the same period, other LGBTQ spaces came into existence that linked together online and offline life in a way that anticipated today’s social networking.