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And then there's the system's legendary ease of use.
"I've tried other sites like Gay.com," says Paul. Nothing beats AOL for the immediacy of naked pictures popping up on your screen almost instantly." Rory O' Neill, president of Cybersite, which specializes in building online communities, says Paul isn't just imagining AOL's speed and ease of use.
It's the first medium to reach the closeted." Planet Out's mission, according to Rielly, is to help gays and lesbians meet each other online and off. "We've failed if all we do is connect people in cyberspace.
Chat is an important part of our core mission to bring people together.
An effective screen-name -- like "Opnwide4me" or "Uinmyass" -- leaves little room for second-guessing.
Instant messaging, for example, allows private conversation in public rooms.
"AOL uses a local client software resident on the user's hard drive," he says.
"Which makes it more robust than other sites which use HTML or Java.
He'd meet guys on business trips by firing up his laptop and entering the chat rooms of the city he was visiting. Indeed, the Net is changing the way gay men come out. "The Internet provides safety for people too scared to come out.
Tom Rielly, co-founder of Planet Out (which operates gay sites both on the Web and on AOL), thinks the Net is a lifeline for people unable or unwilling to come out in public. You can remain anonymous but participate in a community of people like yourself.