Webcams: It's Okay to Sneak a Peek
Copyright © 1998 Dave Bartiromo. All rights reserved.
It used to be that if you were caught peeping into your neighbor's window you'd find yourself fielding questions you weren't prepared to answer. You'd be accused of being many things, none too flattering. But now, anyone with the proper technology (a Web page and a camera) can create a window into a personal life or faraway location and invite you to take a look. All of a sudden, voyeurism is okay. In the world of Web sites and URLs you can peep at your "neighbor" all you want, no questions asked.
Probably the most famous "personcam" was created by a Web designer from Washington D.C. JenniCAM is a look at 21-year-old Jennifer (last name withheld), via camera hook-up to her apartment. Jennifer refused to grant me an interview due to "unforeseeable future reasons." But, according to Jennifer (from her Web site): "Initially I bought the camera to update portions of my Web page with pictures of myself. A friend joked that it could be used to do a fishbowl cam, but of a person. The idea fascinated me, and I took off with it. Initially the JenniCAM had an audience of half a dozen of my close friends, and it spread like wildfire from there." Since its inception, JenniCAM has gained the attention of media everywhere. Most recently, according to Jennifer (from her JenniShow), Peter Weir, director of The Truman Show, based parts of the Jim Carrey film on the JenniCAM.
Sites such as Jennifer's are often categorized as "sexcam" (pornographic) sites, but clearly JenniCAM is not to be lumped into this category. And while Jennifer makes this point clear on her FAQ (frequently asked questions) page, surfers still flock to the site expecting to see sex shows. Jennifer says (again, from the Web page), "This site is not pornography. Yes, it contains nudity from time to time. Real life contains nudity...However, this is not a site about nudity and sexual material. It is a site about real life."
What makes Jennifer's site so interesting is that it is truly about real life. She has allowed the world into her apartment and goes about her business as if the camera wasn't even there. You may catch her working on her computer, entertaining friends, or even sleeping (she sometimes leaves the light on). She answers email and participates in chat sessions (see the Web site for times and locations). Aside from the fact that she broadcasts her life on the Internet, she is a normal, everyday person. Jennifer offers two viewing options for JenniCAM. Guests can view a new "snapshot" every 20 minutes free of charge. Or, for only $15 a year, you can join JenniCAM and obtain automatic reloading of pictures every two minutes. If you have questions about the site, email Jennifer before subscribing.
June Houston's GhostWatcher
In an interesting twist to the "personcam," June Houston offers her GhostWatcher site. Rather than offer boring and useless snapshots like so many Webcams do (a locker, someone's kitchen, etc.), GhostWatcher presents an interactive Webcam experience.
June believes that ghosts haunt her house. She contends that these creatures of the night lurk in her basement, under her bed and inside her trunks. Your job as Web surfer? Locate these ghosts and report to June their whereabouts and what they're up to. Using the various camera and spotlight setups that June has created, you'll view a snapshot of an area and send June a report of what you saw. June then compiles the reports and posts them on the Web site. One ghost hunter sent this email to June: "There appears to be a face of a small child on the floor next to the chair on the right. Blonde hair with ponytail. Child has no body."
June Houston has created something very different with her GhostWatcher Web site. It's more than a "spycam" and much more interesting than a normal snapshot of someone's pantry. Houston basically allows the user to create the site, determine the outcome and report the findings. And while the images by themselves lack excitement, the concept behind the site is intriguing.
There are plenty of other personcams on the World Wide Web; most of them are of a sexual nature. I'm not mentioning the addresses to those sites because frankly, if you want to get to them, you know how. And while many of the sites using the spycams are designed to separate you from your hard-earned dollar by offering some type of upskirt or eye into a men's room, there are many sites that offer useful visuals of various locations across the globe.
In this next section we'll travel all over the planet. We'll view some of the best tourist sites in the world and we'll never leave our computer. The usefulness of Webcams presents itself right here. Want to get a good look at what's happening at Venice Beach? Check out the Venice Beach Cam, and stop by its sister cam, the Santa Monica Bay Cam. Interested in how much of the new Cleveland Browns stadium is built? Visit the Cleveland Browns Stadium Cam. Spycams have been strategically placed all over the world to capture everything from weather to traffic. As the switches to more and more Webcams are turned on, we'll be able to see more and more live images of places we never could have imagined. Let's continue on our journey.
New York State
We start in New York, where two of the world's most beloved tourist attractions are right are your fingertips. Click on FallsCam to see a fantastic view of both Niagara Falls and Horseshoe Falls from high atop the Sheraton Fallsview Hotel. Far enough away to include the forming crowds in the snapshot, the FallsCam can be reloaded anytime to update to the current image. (If you still don't feel like you're close enough, pour a glass of water over your head.)
Continuing in New York, surf over to the Liberty Cam, where you can see a real-time image of (you guessed it) the Statue of Liberty. The Webcam sits in the Manhattan, NY, offices of Shareholder Communications and looks out toward Ellis Island. On a clear day you can see New Jersey. Ooooh.
A few more stops in the Empire State, the first being the Times Square Cam. This Webcam is unique in that the view constantly changes. At one minute, you might catch some workers putting up a new sign (high atop a building); the next minute, you may get a wide shot of the entire Times Square scene. Clear photography makes this Webcam a winner. Check it out at night, when Times Square erupts in all its neon glory.
Next head over to Rockefeller Center. Whether it's Christmas trees and ice-skating, or Rockettes and dancing, something is always happening at the Center. Now you can be a part of it, even from the California coast.
As we continue our journey, take one last look at New York from the 77th floor of the World Trade Center using the WTC Cam. Sometimes you'll catch a glimpse of the beautiful New York skyline; other times it's the roofs of buildings below. It all depends on which direction the folks in the World Trade Center have pointed the camera.
Just one stop in Sin City before we move on. Click on over to the Polo Towers Cam. From the top of the Polo Towers, the first purpose-built five-star vacation ownership resort on the Las Vegas Strip, you'll view the sights and lights of the Las Vegas Strip. Also available on this site is a panoramic view. Select that option and you'll be treated to an in-depth building tour of the Strip, including new hotels as they're built.
Fear of flying is no problem here because Virtual London is just at your fingertips. Click to the Thames River Cam and have a look-see at the exploits on the world-famous river. Located on the HMS Belfast, the cam offers automatic updates and continually changing views so you never see the same thing twice. When you've had your fill of the river, click on Around the Thames Cam. Here you'll be treated to two panoramic views of the city surrounding the river, both noting some of London's famous landmarks. A very comprehensive Webcam, the Thames Cam provides additional links and an archive of past sequences.
Next, head Down Under where you'll find a truly wonderful Webcam experience. Click on the Australia WebCam and chart your own course. Once the location map of Australia downloads, click on your choice of several mapped-out areas (including Tasmania-recommended) and get whisked away to the location of choice via Webcam. Also featuring Real Player (free download) movies and picture galleries, this site has a lot to offer. Sorry, no feeding the koalas.
From Australia we change gears and head to Japan for two stops. Point your mouse to Mt. Fuji Live. Awaiting you there is a long-distance shot of the great Japanese volcano. Dormant since 1708, Mt. Fuji rises 12,388.45 feet above sea level. Take caution, however. This site's photography is not always the greatest and when the weather is on the not-so-good side your view will be heavily obscured.
Also in Japan is Sapporo Now, a multi-camera view of the city of Sapporo. You're the cameraperson (and if you can read Japanese it might help). Select the camera of your choice and view different images of Sapporo.
Our next stop is the Western Wall. A visit to the site of this Webcam is a virtual history of what many Jews refer to as a "symbol of perseverance." The Western Wall is the only remnant of the Temple, which was destroyed by Titus in 68 CE. The Webcam's photography is crisp and clear and thanks to the lighting at the Wall, a good picture is available day and night. The site itself offers links to help visitors learn more about the Wall and its history, to say prayers, and even to send a prayer to the wall via email.
One last overseas site to visit is the Komsomolskaya Square Cam. Takes a peek into Moscow via this camera located on the 13th floor of Krasnye Vorota (Red Gate), a vysotka (temple-like skyscraper) which overlooks another vysotka, which houses the Leningradskaya hotel. (Got that?) The site also provides links to a Russian Guide for visitors.
Webcams, from sites like JenniCam and June Houston's GhostWatcher to the many location cams I've mentioned, offer varied services to users of the Internet. But really, why are people attracted to Webcams? How about the opportunity to see areas of the world they might not otherwise see? Take me, for instance. I've never been to Niagara Falls, yet by visiting the Webcam site, I caught my first glimpse of it. On a deeper level, however, I believe that people are drawn to Webcams because while they watch something might happen. It's as simple as that. Some unexpected eventmight occur. That's why (for the most part) people are attracted to Webcams. They're looking for something out of the ordinary, and Webcams make it okay to be nosy. So if you're interested in what Jennifer or June have to offer, surf on over to their sites. Or, if you'd like a virtual tour of the world, Webcams can help you there, too. One thing is certain: the evolution of the Webcam and its purpose is just beginning.
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Dave Bartiromo is a freelance writer and Internet enthusiast living in Pittsburgh, PA.