Before the proliferation of Internet access, who would have thought that, within years, one would be able to sit down at a computer and only minutes later be viewing live pictures from points all over the globe? Now you can, courtesy of a technology known as "Webcam", short for "Web camera". As the name implies, a Webcam is simply a digital camera that is set up to take photos periodically — such as every minute or every second. The resulting imagery is continuously uploaded to a website, where it can be viewed over the Internet, within a Web browser.
Webcams are employed for all kinds of purposes, ranging from home and business security, freeway monitoring (useful before beginning one's commute), or just showing off your corner of the world. However, not all uses of Webcam technology are suitable for family viewing. Email may have made the Internet a necessity, but pornography made it lucrative. It should thus come as no surprise that pornographers were the first to truly make extensive use of Webcams. However, I won't be going there. Instead, I will be examining websites devoted to Webcams pointed at G-rated locations all over our picturesque planet.
Many Digital Eyeballs
Given the increasing popularity of Webcamming, the difficulty is not in finding Internet sites devoted to Webcams, but instead in limiting one's search to those sites that have the best selections. At the dawn of the technology, the only Webcam online was of course the very first, which was likely the famous Cambridge coffee pot. Over the years, enthusiasts have brewed up a countless number of their own online Webcams. This led to the development of Webcam directories, similar to the website directory concept that gave Yahoo its start.
A favorite on many people's lists is Earthcam, with links to almost 4,000 Webcams (as revealed by using its search facility to look up the word "cam"). On the home page, all of the links are grouped into 14 categories, each of which contains its own subcategories, with a fair amount of overlap. For instance, within "Weird & Bizarre Cams" (always my favorite category), the first link is to a set of cameras in a Dutch home, whose owners apparently allow you to turn their lights on and off. Once you have tired of that (or the Dutch homeowners have), check out the Webcam (listed on the same page) for jail booking in Anderson County, Tennessee, to see who is currently being tossed into the pokey — possibly for harassing homeowners by turning their lights on and off.
WebCam Central contains links to a large number of Webcams. They claim to have several hundred sites, cross-indexed. But there appears to be no way to confirm that, since the search facility is inferior to that of Earthcam. However, they do allow the site visitor to view their Webcam links by category (50 of those) or by location (100 countries). In addition, one can view a randomly selected Webcam site, if one is feeling lucky.
WebCam.Com apparently has 220 links to online Webcams. What sets it apart from the previously mentioned directories is that it hosts various discussions of Webcam technology, as well as some links to available Web cameras, in case you are in the market for one. It also allows you to add Webcams to an album of favorites, similar to bookmarking websites within your browser.
Leonard's Cam World boasts having over 8,000 Webcam sites listed within its directory. But the award for the most sites listed may go to WebcamSearch.com, which weighs in at over 42,000 claimed links. Other popular Webcam sites include 123 CAM and Webcams of the World.
While the broad-based directories may be the best way to find most types of Webcams, there are advantages to exploring the Webcam sites that specialize in particular areas, either regionally or categorically. One example of this is WorldLIVE, a little-known site, based in the Czech Republic, that focuses on outdoor Webcams. Don't be put off by the site's innovative spelling of such words as "geograpfical" and "interesitng". This site groups Webcam links by country, by topic, and — in a manner not seen on any other site — by maps of Europe, Canada, Africa, and 21 other regions.
If you have a PDA with a wireless connection to the Internet, you can access Webcam sites designed for a PDA's limited size, simply by going to Webcampda.com. All of their Web pages use a small font, with minimal graphics, and with the text restricted to the left-hand portion of the screen, to fit within the boundaries of a PDA screen.
When exploring the metropolitan sections of these Webcam sites, you will likely notice that San Diego seems to have a small number of Webcams, in proportion to its population, physical extent, and Webcam potential. After all, isn't San Diego the U.S. city with the best climate, according to meteorologists? Don't we have lovely beaches along our coast? Isn't Blacks Beach used by some as a nude beach? Don't worry, I promise not to go there, in more ways than one.
But it turns out that we do have some decent Webcams here in "America's Finest City". For example, San Diego Zoo PandaCam provides a Webcam of the Giant Panda Research Station. That same page has links to Webcams devoted to apes, elephants, and polar bears at the zoo. In a similar vein, ShamuCam displays the home of killer whales at SeaWorld San Diego.
Webcamming for Fun and Profit
If you are a surfer, you may find yourself in the mood to hang ten toes off a surfboard instead of ten fingers on a keyboard. In that case, you can check the current surfing action, or lack thereof, at Scripps Pier, by surfing the Web over to http://www.surfingsandiego.com/scripps.shtml. Or you can check the beach conditions near Mission Bay, via http://www.beachcottages.com/interest.htm, courtesy of The Beach Cottages.
Perhaps the most clever use of Webcam technology, is to remotely obtain photographs of energetic con artists, without having to even be in the same city to which they have been lured. For example, in the entertaining "Adventures of Wendy Wilcox", a young lady makes good use of a Webcam, located in Amsterdam, in order to get multiple photographs of the Nigerian scammers who were hoping to defraud her. The Nigerian Scam Baiting site has a couple of accounts in which Webcams were used in a similar manner.
If you do decide to set up your own Webcam, be sure to list it with one or more of the better known Webcam directory sites. That way other people will be able to discover your Webcam and add it to their list of favorites, regardless of where they are in the world — even Nigeria!