It's a Darwinian process: If your screen-name doesn't attract the energy for fueling libidos, you starve, sexually.An effective screen-name -- like "Opnwide4me" or "Uinmyass" -- leaves little room for second-guessing.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.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.Instant messaging, for example, allows private conversation in public rooms.And then there's the system's legendary ease of use.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."AOL uses a local client software resident on the user's hard drive," he says.
But for heterosexuals, AOL is merely a swinger's lounge.At 18 million members, AOL is so big you can find just about everything -- or anyone -- you're looking for.It turns out size does matter, and AOL has become the de facto online meet market largely because of its big member base.If you use their definition of a swimmer's body, Orca would qualify." Tim was addicted to AOL chat rooms. To understand how the squeaky-clean all-American portal of family friendly fun got turned into trick central you first have to grasp the dramatic impact the Internet is having on any group stigmatized by society.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."There are a lot of other gay Web sites that have chat rooms, but they came after the fact, after AOL," says Ron, a San Francisco marketing consultant who maintains two AOL accounts -- one for cruising and one for everything else."They have millions of subscribers, which would keep even the most active gay man busy." The popularity of the gay penis prowl on AOL has more to do with the company's technology than any gay-friendly stance on AOL's part.Dicks if I can get them" -- Steve arranges a rendezvous. " is a refrain reverberating all over AOL's servers. "I logged on, clicked into a room, exchanged GIFs and bam, I was out the door." Not everyone is happy when they finally do meet offline.It usually takes Steve 45 minutes from the time he starts his computer till he hears a knock on the door. As Tim, an inveterate chat-room user from Long Beach, Calif., says, "You cannot believe how much some of these guys lie.The best way to do that is with a descriptive screen-name that other chat members can click on to see if you have a fly worth unzipping.AOL forces you to use a maximum of 10 letters in your screen-name, which serves to weed out the creatively feeble.