michael naimark
World Wide Web Cams

The Vision: A network of thousands of live, always on, public webcams in public places are easily accessible via the Internet. They are typically placed in commons and always have local champions maintaining them. Because the webcam hardware is cheap and the protocol is ubiquitous, thousands of additional webcams are accessible of private places as well. Issues of representation, control, and surveillance will be discovered and debated in an organic, bottom-up way rather than as a result of massive, centralized initiatives.

Background: A piece of the All Live Global Video project which is particularly enticing is around live webcams. In 1998 and 1999, in the initial research leading up to Kundi, my group at Interval Research conducted an extensive survey of the state of webcams. We concluded that as cameras get cheaper, as video compression becomes more efficient, and as network pipes widen, that webcams will proliferate, massively.

That was then. Today, more webcams seem like deadcams. Many sites are dead or have non-working webcams. Even the most popular webcam portals like Earthcam is far from the dream of a decade ago, with most webcams still not streaming video but sputtering out a still image every minute or two. (This is doubly ironic, since plug-and-play streaming webcams are commonly available today for under $100.)

What's badly needed, and hasn't yet happened, is a standard protocol for webcams, as well as an initial critical mass of webcams to seed things. An obvious place to start is tourist destinations. (Remember years ago Kodak placed little "best place to take a picture here" signs?) Another starting place is world heritage sites, where travel, tourism, and growth need to be limited. A personal favorite are animal cams. A more ambitious scenario can be imagined around "VR Webcams."

With a standard protocol, webcams will also proliferate privately. For example, I'd like a webcam in my kitchen near the table. Almost all the time, it would be off (with a piece of black cardboard over the lens). Every now and then, I'd use it for family and friends, password protected. Then, once in a blue moon, I'd want to talk to the world and would stream video (and audio), no black cardboard, no password.

Issues surrounding surveillance are inevitable. Consider that very tiny wireless video cameras are available today. My own work with camera zapping has received millions of hits (and I've received several purported death threats). These issues are serious and pervasive. Better that they're dealt with as a community from the ground up.

Next Steps: How to seed?

(last updated 27 March 2006)


7 July 2007: "Here For Ever Cam" Proposal.

2 July 2006: I proposed a worldwide webcam initiative in the National Geographic Society boardroom during the third annual meeting of the "Big Picture Summit."

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