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
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,
Issues surrounding surveillance are inevitable. Consider that very
tiny wireless video cameras are available today. My own work
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"
2 July 2006: I proposed a worldwide webcam initiative in the National
Geographic Society boardroom during the third annual meeting of
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