The Rowntree’s have been creating porn for 25 years!
When Colin Rowntree first launched Wasteland, back in 1994, it called a BBS home. This was the very early days of the internet, which didn’t bear much resemblance to the web as we know it today.
As it flourished and grew, Wasteland was eventually moved to a dedicated IP address, along with a number of kinky mail-order catalogs. It didn’t take long for Colin to figure out the best way to monetize would be to merge the catalogs, Wasteland’s photography and the site’s tutorials together under a single umbrella.
Network Solutions launched in 1995 and the Rowntree’s purchased their first domain name for a staggering $100. Within a couple of years, domain prices had dropped to around $70, still significantly more than they can be purchased for today.
A small bit of misinformation – the mistaken notion that they could only own one domain name and that name couldn’t be over ten characters in length – led Colin and his wife Angie to register a domain name based on their corporate name, the Phoenix Group, rather than use the Wasteland brand name in the domain. (It was a logical choice, given the information they’d been provided, but obviously not ideal from a branding perspective….)
Wasteland was then moved to phoenixgrp.com/wasteland/. If you dig around enough, there are still some photos floating around the web with the watermark “phoenixgrp.com/wasteland/” on them. Wasteland lived at that URL until 1997, when it became clear that you could in fact purchase more than one domain, with as many characters as you wished. Thus, Wasteland.com was born.
By the following year, 1998, Angie Rowntree knew she wanted to start an adult site geared towards women and created from a woman’s perspective – but she had no idea what that would look like, or where to start. A quick, informal poll of the women in her office demonstrated just how varied their tastes were, exploding the notion that women’s tastes in erotica would be any less diverse than those of men. How was Angie to proceed, given this uncertainty?
Angie determined to set out to ask any many women as possible about their fantasies, turn-ons and aesthetic preferences. Based on the data she collected, she would then create content based on the greatest points of commonality between their responses. And so, in January 1999, the domain Sssh.com was purchased and ear-tagged for development. Meanwhile, over on phoenixgrp.com/sssh/ (yup, they did that again), a very simple survey/questionnaire was put up, the backend of which was just a very basic “mailto” form.
You may be wondering, why the brand name “Sssh”? Back then, women’s sexuality was not something that was widely accepted as a topic for conversation – so it made sense to satirize that fact by branding the site like it was something secret and forbidden.
For the next couple of years following its launch, Sssh content was purchased and produced based on the survey results and what the women who responded said they wanted to see. About a quarter of the content went up on phoenixgrp.com/sssh as soon as it was acquired or produced – a way to say thank you to the women who took the survey and to keep them engaged. The rest went into development for the launch of the future Sssh.com site. The early Sssh content consisted of articles, stories, photos, photo stories, an “Ask a Man” roundtable, the “Dear Renee” column, (think “Dear Abby,” only much racier) and thumbnail-sized movies in RealMedia. In effect, the site was very much like what people now refer to as “blogs.”
The pages for both Wasteland and Sssh were plain HTML, initially coded by hand. Like most other internet-related technologies, things were changing quickly where site authoring tools were concerned; by the time Sssh.com came along, Netscape Composer and Dreamweaver were being widely used. Photo galleries for the sites were created with ThumbsPlus WebPageWizard and Arles – names which might not mean anything to you, unless you happened to be creating websites back in the late 90s and early aughts, too.
Creating content for Sssh has always been a very slow, considered process. To this day, Angie’s survey is still running and Sssh members are still actively responding in great numbers, expressing their desires, detailing their fantasies and sometimes even providing highly developed ideas for entire movies.
Today Sssh is always on the leading edge of production and innovation. It also has the longest-running survey and archived data on women’s sexuality. The member’s area platform has been updated numerous times since 1999, always incorporating the latest in technology and A.I., in order to provide the best experience for its members. So what happened to all that original content? It’s still available in an achieved collection on the site. It is, after all, an irreplaceable historic representation of not only women’s desires but also society-at-large. It’s important to be able to have that peek into the past, to see the trends in women’s sexuality and desires over the last 20-plus years.
“It’s been an amazing journey, one in which I’ve learned so much,” Angie says, looking back on the last 25 years. “I’ve gone from being a novice filmmaker to a seasoned director with a style and vision of my own. None of it would have been possible without the copious feedback and generous support of our members”
Wasteland and Sssh are updated three times a week with original content, including their award-winning films.
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