Those of us who have sought female companionship over the Internet are familiar with some of the Russian language sites that cater to our interests: loving.ru, dating.ru, and omen.ru are among the most popular. Every few days I get an e-mail from dating.ru, which features the latest round-up of Russian girls looking to find a boyfriend over the Internet. After all, men who have Internet access probably have better job prospects. In fact, we're an elite; according to either The Moscow Times or my girlfriend, only 2% of Russians use the Internet at home.
Most of the girls on these sites are here in Moscow or in St. Petersburg -- these cities have lots of bored office workers and students with access to scanners capable of uploading a flattering picture to the Internet. When you look over the pictures of girls from the provinces, you notice that most of them have sent almost identical pictures of themselves, scantily clad, in front of drapes. Somebody posed them for these shots, so they obviously work for porn sites. But which ones?
Most of us remember the beginning of "amateur" Internet porn. A college-aged girl would scan a bunch of pictures and find some commercial site designer to make her site with an early version of FrontPage. A start-up credit card processing company on the web would be used to process payments. Doing this requires a degree of initiative and intelligence, which limited the number of these sites as attractive girls with these qualities can usually find basic office jobs. But soon studios that would hire several girls and offer monthly access started getting into the business. For girls in the provinces, these studios were really the only option, because DSL and cable modems were not yet available in most of provincial Russia.
All of this changed when the Ifriends network opened its doors on Valentine's Day, 1998. Ifriends is a portal that offers 'exhibitors' easy-to-download software that lets them use a 50 dollar webcam to produce streaming video online. By '98, there were thousands of porn sites with only a few girls each; Ifriends offered a central meeting place for would-be porn stars and balding, 40 year old executives to exchange services for cash. Women would use a text chat to lure men into a 'private show' in which they could then take off their clothes.
Registered members got access to archive pictures, which were often superior to the pictures offered at a price on the other sites. For its trouble, iFriends collects 50% of their revenues.
It is extremely easy for a girl to list herself on iFriends; as an experiment, I once pointed a Logitech webcam that I had hooked up to my old 233 at my ex-girlfriend's bunnies and let them prance around online in front of perverts from Missouri for nearly an hour. This the rabbits did free of charge.
A year or two after iFriends opened its doors, girls from other countries started to appear on the site. These girls, rather than working alone from home, were employed by studios that would set up cameras and beds with computers. This was nothing new, but they used the same free software and cheap cameras that had been available to everyone for years. A cursory glance at Ifriends today reveals that there are 1700 girls logged on. Most of these girls work at studios in Russia, Romania, Latvia and the Czech Republic. For whatever reason, certain cities seem to predominate in the number of girls they feature, particularly Saint Petersburg, Yaroslavl, Riga, and Bucharest.
Trying to talk to such girls in the "guest chat" room can often prove nearly impossible. They are given a list of things to say when someone comes into their "room" in order to get them to log on for a private video session. You can't really take offense to this: these girls don't have a clue what you're saying. In addition, studios usually forbid girls from talking extensively to guests if the guests don't start paying. Most of the girls stick pretty closely to their scripts. Fortunately, their pictures are always available. After having the same conversation about twelve times, it is possible to find a girl who actually wants to talk. In this case, she's usually interested in talking to an English-speaker who doesn't just babble about sex. Sometimes not. Sending a picture usually helps.