The End Is Nigh For FogCam, Billed As The Internet's Oldest Running Webcam

Aug 19, 2019
Originally published on August 20, 2019 5:10 pm

It has been a tumultuous quarter century for San Francisco, what with the rise of its neighbor, Silicon Valley, and the changes that came with it. But at least a couple of things have stayed reliably consistent, such as the distinctive Bay Area fog that's so familiar it even has a name (just call it Karl) and the live webcam that watches it from the campus of San Francisco State University.

FogCam has been around since 1994. That's old enough to be commonly credited as the world's oldest webcam in operation — and one of the oldest websites, period.

But the end is coming for FogCam.

"After 25 years, Fogcam is shutting down forever at the end of August," the site's creators and administrators, nicknamed Webdog and Danno, tweeted on Saturday. They thanked the university and the cam's viewers, adding: "The Internet has changed a lot since 1994, but Fogcam will always have a special place in its history."

The two men, who respectively answer to Jeff Schwartz and Dan Wong offline, didn't immediately clarify why they're finally pulling the plug. But Schwartz suggested to the San Francisco Chronicle that the cam's upkeep had just become too difficult.


Schwartz and Wong explain on their site that they've "slightly changed campus locations a few times as necessary over the years, to prevent being shut down by the university."

The FogCam's view of Holloway Avenue at San Francisco State University, seen at the time of writing. Come September, the cam's creators say, they'll be sunsetting these landmark glimpses of the mundane.
Jeff Schwartz and Dan Wong / FogCam

They're careful to clarify on their site that though they may operate the oldest webcam that's (for now) still around, FogCam is not actually the Internet's first. That honor goes to a camera that was trained on a coffee percolator in the main computer lab at the University of Cambridge. The scientists who got it started in 1991 and brought it online in 1993 figured that having an eye on the appliance would help prevent the dangers of getting unpleasantly surprised by an empty pot.

The coffeepot cam lasted about 10 years before it was turned off.

Now, nearly two decades since that cam's demise, FogCam is eyeing its own approaching quietus, one ambling pedestrian at a time. It will broadcast its last shots online at the end of the month.

And it appears that Karl the Fog may come by to bid farewell in person. Currently, the forecast for that fateful day is partly cloudy.

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Lots of things have changed in San Francisco since nearby Silicon Valley sparked a tech revolution. But for the past quarter-century, you could at least count on a couple of things - the fog that often shrouds the city and the live webcam that watches it. FogCam is said to be the world's oldest running webcam. It's one of the oldest websites, period. But as NPR's Colin Dwyer reports, the end is near for this Internet landmark.

COLIN DWYER, BYLINE: The two guys who created FogCam didn't say too much when they announced its coming demise - just a single tweet Sunday, saying that their webcam at San Francisco State University is going dark at the end of the month. That kind of simplicity is fitting for an operation that has been pretty understated from the very beginning.

Here's Jeff Schwartz, who started the cam with Dan Wong on a shoestring budget back when they were students in 1994.

JEFF SCHWARTZ: Dan and I scrounged together some equipment - I mean, old equipment that no one really wanted to use, bought a little cheap camera at the college bookstore and threw together some AppleScript and some freeware and create a webcam.

DWYER: Schwartz and Wong - who go by the nicknames Webdog and Danno online - say that theirs was not the first webcam. That distinction goes to a camera that watched a communal coffee pot at the University of Cambridge. But while that camera shut down nearly two decades ago, FogCam is still going strong for now, not that there that there was ever any big, serious mission behind it.

SCHWARTZ: We've just kept it going for 25 years because it was just this kind of little cool thing that we liked.

DWYER: But these days, keeping the cam up and running has just become too much trouble. Schwartz says that the school just kind of tolerated its presence, and they've had to move it around a bunch over the years. At one point, it was looking down on a coffee shop, which Schwartz found funny - an inside joke that was a nod to the Cambridge coffee pot cam.

Currently, FogCam is taking images of a street on campus, refreshed every 20 seconds. But to Schwartz, it's about more than a stretch of Holloway Avenue. FogCam is a vestige of a different era.

SCHWARTZ: Anyone, just some individual, could just create something cool, set it up, publish it on the Internet, and people could come and look at it. It was a fun time, an interesting time, and I think in some ways the Internet lacks that today.

DWYER: The forecast for FogCam's final days is partly cloudy, hopefully with just a touch of fog.

Colin Dwyer, NPR News.

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