The wild, wacky world of webcams grows up -- kinda

The Web is chock full of cameras targeted at just about anything you can think of

The site is now a venture-backed start-up hosting a number of niche channels, including other lifecasters, explained its CEO, Michael Seibel. Many of the lifecast channels include live video with a chat screen. Often, the video screen shows the top of the broadcaster's head, as he or she leans over the keyboard to respond to text messages.

Life-casting

Why lifecast? "Part of it is narcissism, proclaiming that I am interesting enough that you should watch me," said network engineer Dennis Judd, explaining why he has had a webcam in his office for eight years now. "But my site is a way for me to socialize in a way that I don't have time or energy to support otherwise -- I can't be a friend to all the people who are coming to my site from all over the world. One reason for having a webcam is to keep the content fresh and dynamic, so there will be something new to look at." He originally had the webcam at his AT&T office until it was suggested he lacked permission. It's now in his home office.

Other lifecasting office workers in the computer field describe the same arc experienced by CoolerCam and JenniCam, moving from novelty to notoriety to obscurity. For instance, the star of "The Nerdman Show" has had as many as 15 cameras following his life since 1997. These used to include cameras in his home. Nowadays, he asked that his name not be used.

"It was originally done as a marketing concept, and I didn't want to be the subject, but no one else wanted to do it," he said, explaining that his company sells outdoor network cameras. "It was easier when Google ads entered the picture and brought in some money, which went into my pocket because it's my site. But then I got married and had two children, and it was hard to explain to them why they should not run around certain areas in their underwear." He's now down to one camera, in his office.

For the jack-n-diane.com site of e-commerce executive John R. Harding, "It's morphed from a way for the family to look at our kids, to a method of home surveillance -- it's had a full lifespan." Now, it's mostly pointed at his front yard, he noted.

"The novelty among viewers has worn off on both sides of the ocean, but we still get comments from people who live in areas where there is no snow, since they're surprised to see it here," said Harding. "Sometimes I worry about security, but if someone wanted to find me, there are multiple days to do it, and the webcam adds little to that," he noted.

Meanwhile, CoolerCam.com has had more than 1.3 million visitors since February 1997. "It's a novelty item," Ryan said. "We tell our customers about it, and they want to check it out and have us stand in front of it. It helps build rapport. There's no reason to take it down. The camera just sits there without any need for maintenance. We were the first cooler cam, and we may be the last."

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Lamont Wood

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