The genesis and evolution of the inimitable Jane’s Guide serves brilliantly as an adult Internet archetype. From its almost accidental beginnings to current resource-defying daily operations, what goes on at www.janesguide.com is inspiring, sometimes confounding, and above all else, helpful. In this, it represents what is best about the adult Internet industry.
On the Net since June 1997, Jane’s Guide is a “one-stop portal to the best in hand-indexed and reviewed [adult] links.” The guide gives reviews for sites of all kinds, “from highbrow erotica and fine art nude photography to XXX hardcore with no redeeming social value (well, other than entertainment... heh).” It also assigns icons to favored sites, and the Jane’s Guide crayon-drawn curly-haired stick figure holding a little placard proclaiming “Quality” or “Original” before her balloonish rack is a sought-after symbol for surfers and Webmasters alike.
Dozens of categories are covered by the Guide: sexuality advice; gender and sexuality resources; information about bondage, S/M, and other alternative expressions of sexuality; fetishes and sexual practices – all with the goal of providing “unbiased and sex-positive snapshots” of what a surfer can find at any particular adult Web address.
“If it’s entertainment you're wanting,” the JanesGuide.com informs, “we have reviews of the best on the Web, from amateur sites with real ‘girl-next-door’ nudes to glamour nudes to vintage pinups. Would you rather stimulate your imagination? Check out our listings of written erotica – some of the steamiest sex stories on the Net.”
The “In the beginning... ” part of the Jane’s Guide story finds the intrepid Jane Duvall, single mother of three, working for a mainstream newspaper, trying to make ends meet. To facilitate this, Duvall took a part-time job as a phone sex provider “in the wee hours of the night from home,” as she puts it, and developed a small site to promote these services. Almost immediately, she made this promotion site into a sex-positive Webzine, and in the meantime, burned out on phone sex – she found it “rewarding but emotionally draining.”
Duvall wanted to keep the ’zine alive, but she had now taken a revenue-generating job and morphed it into a fund-sucking project. She decided to try her hand at a link site, hoping this would provide the extra money she’d gone looking for in the first place.
“The original site, Jane’s Reviewed Adult Links, appeared on the Web in June 1997 and garnered its first media notice in October of the same year as The Web magazine’s site of the day,” Duvall relates. “The Web, at the time, ran The Webby Awards (www.thewebbyawards.com) and picking an adult site was almost unheard of.”
Thus, the Little Links Site That Could became so popular that the original ’zine it was supposed to support fell by the wayside. Both Duvall and partner Jim started working full time to keep up with it. A name change followed (Jane’s Net Sex Guide), and, in 1999, Duvall secured a domain, added a few other reviewers, and has been “going strong ever since, as we continue to bring surfers the best in the online adult world.”
Jane’s Guide makes money from advertising, primarily, and now supports other labors-of-love the way it was intended to – Duvall’s personal site among them (www.janeduvall.com).
She admits to being ignorant of not only the “gold mine” aspect of adult Internet, but pretty much the existence of the industry itself, when she was first starting out: “At the time we hadn’t surfed anything. I had my own pet project [the small, sex-positive e-zine] – I had no idea how much was out there, since all my work went into creating and editing that ’zine.
“When I decided to start the link site, that was when I started surfing porn sites. Back then it was so ‘Wild West.’ There were no rules. Probably 80 percent of the sites had stolen content, there were tons of rip-offs for consumers – there still are, but it’s not quite as bad – and it just was common sense to me to offer as much info as I could.”
This consumer’s rights-oriented style is probably the Guide’s greatest strength. Duvall provides info on what to look for in a pay site, a “Common Problems FAQ,” info on AVSes and phone sex, and what to do should a surfer stumble upon child porn.
All Jane’s Guide listings include information on whether a site is free or if some form of payment is required, and a well-researched, from-experience “Consumer Tips” section. “There’s a reason we’ve been referred to as the Consumer Reports of porn,” the site brags. “We waste our time so you don’t have to!”
Reviews show the date a site was reviewed and whether or not there’s invasive ad content (popups, etc.); they’re divided into the sections “New Listings,” “Regional Guide,” “Consumer Picks,” and “Staff Picks.” There’s also a “Staff Picks” icon that can go on the picked site itself, when such a site aligns with the personal quirks and preferences of a particular reviewer (“for example, Peter loves girls who wear glasses”).
“Gallery Features” provides “a bit of fun free content right here at Jane’s Guide”: Duvall puts up small galleries and profiles of photographers and artists whose work she enjoys here. JaneTalk is where the discussion forums reside. These seem to be natural extensions of Duvall’s irrepressible personality, which first manifested itself in a Jane’s Reviewed Adult Links section called “The Photo Challenge.” Here, readers could write in with a photo request to prove that Jane was, indeed, real. (Apparently, lots of people adamantly maintained that the site was run by a male.) Duvall describes such gems from “The Photo Challenge” as herself “eating a bowl of Wheaties, posing in a red satin nightgown and grabbing a beer from the fridge.”
The most challenging thing for Duvall about running today’s Jane’s Guide is “Keeping from getting burned out entirely.
“All of us take periodic breaks from reviewing, just because it’s almost impossible to keep a fresh eye if you do it constantly. It gets to the point that nothing is even interesting.”
What counter-balances this, of course, is the fun of “when I do find some little gem that I feel like is undiscovered.
“Usually these are in the form of someone else’s labor-of-love site. When I get to bring an audience to those, and hear back from the people who run them, it makes my day,” Duvall enthuses.
Duvall is not without her regrets; for instance, she says if she had it all to do over again, “I’d start with a much more sophisticated content management system. I never expected it to get so big or last so long, so it’s kind of been pieced together over time. That is the biggest thing, definitely.”
Also, “I wish we had a larger staff. There is so much I want to do that we don’t have time to implement.”
Surely her very active life outside of the Guide serves as a salve for annoyances such as this: “When I’m not busy running Websites, I’m off trying other things like rock climbing, scuba diving, and taekwondo. Most of my time is spent at my quiet little cabin in the woods; with my children, goofy orange-and-white cat, and lots of episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer on DVD to keep me entertained.”
The self-described “Jane of All Trades” gets another to add to her well-stocked hat rack: “Renaissance Jane.”