Sydney-based website Pinkboard has been bringing Australia’s queer population together and keeping them up-to-date with the latest community gossip for 10 years this month.
To celebrate, they’re throwing a party at Arq nightclub on Friday 20 May.
But Pinkboard has been around much longer than that. It actually started in 1986 after computer programmer Larry Singer discovered Viatel, a service provided by Telecom which was kind of like a primitive form of internet.
It was only available in Australia and was open to anyone who knew how to log on -“ mostly geeks and nerds, the people in the computer industry, Singer said.
It was incredibly slow and extremely expensive, with pages costing up to $5 to download.
After searching the existing bulletin boards Singer realised there was nothing aimed specifically at a gay audience.
A couple had gay sections on them, but there was nothing exclusively queer.
So he decided to start Pinkboard, creating a section for personal ads, a bulletin board and private messaging.
Singer said around 200 people probably used Pinkboard back in the late 80s and early 90s, and most were from Sydney as anyone dialling in from interstate had to pay STD rates.
Because it was so localised Pinkboard became very social, with users meeting up regularly in the flesh.
By 1995 the internet was starting to boom across the globe, and Singer decided to move Pinkboard onto the web.
I think there were a few other gay sites around at the same time, but none of them are still going today, Singer said proudly.
All of the original sections were moved across onto the new medium. Singer added a page containing links to other gay sites, because back then there weren’t search engines like Google, and he created Pinkboard’s famous graffiti walls where people could share their thoughts on just about whatever they liked.
In the late 90s, the number of people visiting Pinkboard increased from hundreds to thousands and then millions.
The graffiti walls became one of the best places to gauge what was happening in the local queer communities, while the online personals became one of the most popular ways to meet other people.
It was the only online place to put personals, Singer recalled.
We were competing directly with the Sydney Star Observer‘s personals section back then, which was incredibly thick.
Pinkboard remained an independent backroom operation, with Singer maintaining the site from his desk at his full-time job whenever he got spare time.
However, he did end up getting a few other people to help moderate the bulletin boards.
It was the most popular gay site in Australia until late 2000, when Gaydar arrived and took over the market.
They had money to advertise the site and make their brand known, because they were a multinational company and had all the resources, Singer said.
Instead of trying to compete directly with Gaydar, Singer tried to find other ways to keep Pinkboard interesting. He feels the graffiti walls have been the most successful area in doing that. Last year Pinkboard had five million hits on its home page.
This isn’t bad, but Singer thinks it’s now time to update the site and bring it into line with some of its peers. I think I need to put some things in to be a more complete service, he said.
He’s also on the lookout for new people to get involved to keep the site growing and evolving, because it can’t be me just looking after it forever.
Pink, Pinkboard’s 10-year anniversary party, will be held on Friday 20 May from 9pm at Arq Sydney. Doors open at 9pm, champagne on arrival. Entry is $10.