A little bit of history

randomcamsYou might be wondering how the Opentopia webcam site came to be, so here are a few highlights of the story.

Back in 2005 various tech blogs were discussing the fact that somebody had discovered how to find open webcams in search engines. For example, Google allows you to make a search on particular patterns of an URL. And IP webcams use URLs that normally have a recognizable format, although it often is different for different vendors and different models. But, as an example, searching for “inurl:axis-cgi/jpg” in Google will provide a listing of thousands of webcams of the Axis brand. So, people were trying that, and thought it was cool, and a little shocking that you could do this, not knowing if the webcams were meant to be public or not.

I  thought, yeah, that’s cool, but it is a little tedious to have to click on URLs one at a time to see what they might be showing. I decided to automate it a little bit, to create a program that did the search in Google, that remembered the results, and that went and captured a snapshot of each cam for a gallery. I worked non-stop all weekend on creating that program and had it working sometime Sunday January 9th. I put in up on a page of my Opentopia site, which so far had been meant for collections of public information, so I thought it might be the best match. I wrote a blog post about my success. At this point I just thought of it as a cool one-time thing to do, just because one can.

Since people were talking about it already, I couldn’t help but mention it to a few other people, who then passed it on. Like on the BoingBoing blog.

I also left a small comment on Slashdot, again mentioning what I did, in a thread with thousands of messages.

Lots of people started showing up on my page to look at it. I mean lots. By Wednesday 50,000 people per day were visiting. My server was not at all set up to handle that, and my page was badly optimized for many users, so it crashed. I fixed some things and after a few tries, it held up.

Since it obviously was popular and fun to look at, I gradually added more features, to crowd source the editing of the camera information, to add comments, etc. Traffic dropped to more sensible levels, but people have continued coming since then.

Other sites have copied the concept over the years, usually less well, but it was the lucky stroke of my weekend project that made Opentopia both the very first and the most popular in the genre.

– Flemming Funch

July 15, 2014 at 1:18 pm | History | No comment



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