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That resistance is on full display one afternoon this fall when I take a short walk around the neighborhood. “I used to get Red Book reviews, but they took it down.”Omuro started Redbook so that Bay Area mongers would have a home on the web.I count five women standing on various corners, some actively waving at cars, others more carefully making low-key eye contact with male drivers as they cruise by. She wears a black tank top with spaghetti straps, mommish jeans, and a San Francisco Giants sweatshirt tied around her waist. It succeeded, ultimately attracting so many users that the site became a full-fledged business, with massive profits.Launched in 1999 by a Mountain View, California, tech entrepreneur named Eric “Red” Omuro, Red Book began as a modest hub for mongers (Internet slang for johns) to discuss the local scene and post reviews of escorts.As it grew, the site expanded beyond the Bay Area, adding sections for Southern California, the Central Coast, Phoenix, Nevada, and the Pacific Northwest.
For more than a decade, the site commonly referred to as Red Book served as a vast catalog of carnal services, a mashup of Craigslist, Yelp, and Usenet where sex workers and hundreds of thousands of their customers could connect, converse, and make arrangements for commercial sex.
You might mistake her for a lady on her way out to buy groceries, except she's wearing cartoonishly thick lipstick and heavy eye makeup, especially striking in the middle of the day. A guy on a Harley stops at a red light, and the woman lewdly thrusts her hips in his direction. But when Red Book was shut down, the people who were hit the hardest weren't the buyers, but the sellers—sex workers like Cathy for whom the site had made the world's oldest profession significantly less risky.
The biker rides on, and a police truck pulls up alongside us. She walks toward the car and leans her head into his open window. I step off the curb and quickly cross illegally in the middle of the street. One of the ways the site reduced danger for workers was by making it easier for them to weed out bad dates, from poor tippers to full-on abusive creeps.
Omuro also added a key functionality—he made it possible for sex workers to advertise their services.
Red Book may have been full of racy talk and the promise of erotic assignations, but the site itself was anything but sexy.