The Longest Running Web Cam, Set to Go Offline, Has Been Saved

The camera has been recording San Francisco’s fog for 25 years

Screen Shot 2019-08-20 at 5.42.27 PM.png
FogCam's view at the time of writing. FogCam

Editor's Note, September 3, 2019: Thanks to an outpouring of support after news that FogCam would be shuttered, officials at San Francisco State University announced they will maintain the camera after all. In a tweet, SFSU confirmed that it has agreed to "preserve and run it indefinitely," reports Mihir Zaveri at the New York Times.

The longest running web cam was supposed to log off after 25 years of service gazing out at Holloway Avenue on the San Francisco State University campus and posting a typically foggy still frame every 20 seconds.

FogCam, as its known, began as a student project in 1994 in the Department of Instructional Technologies at San Francisco State University. The creators—Jeff Schwartz and Dan Wong, or Webdog and Danno as they’re known online—announced this week that they would be taking it offline on August 30, because it is a bit tricky to maintain, Schwartz told the San Francisco Chronicle’s Amanda Bartlett.

"We felt it was time to let it go," Schwartz said. "The bottom line is that we no longer have a really good view or place to put the camera. The university tolerates us, but they don't really endorse us and so we have to find secure locations on our own."

As undergraduates, the pair was enjoying their computer science classes at SFSU before the area became nextdoor neighbors with Silicon Valley. They were especially fascinated by the first ever webcam, the Trojan Room coffee pot cam, which monitored the status of a drip coffee maker for researchers at the University of Cambridge. The Trojan Room cam started up in 1991, so it predated the Internet. After connecting to the Internet in 1993, it had a long run before dropping offline in 2001, so FogCam has rightfully been crowned the longest reigning webcam of the Internet.

As a tribute to its inspiration, the team would sometimes position the camera to face the line of patrons visiting a campus coffee shop called Cafe Rosso, so students would know how long the wait would be, reports Bartlett.

Usually, however, FogCam was capturing the same mundane view of a campus street clouded in iconic San Franciscan fog, or Karl, as the thick blanket of water droplets covering the city is called online. And it will likely continue to catch the same plain view until its last day.

As Colin Dwyer at NPR poetically puts it: “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.”

FogCam wasn’t the only webcam project of Schwartz’s. In 1995, he set up a camera to monitor his beloved cats—Petunia and Web—while he was in class, reports the Chronicle’s Bartlett.

"As far as I know, they were the first cats live on the Internet," Schwartz remarks.

The Amazing Fish Cam is the second longest running camera, reports Trevor Mogg of Digital Trends. The fish cam, which went online in 1994 shortly after FogCam, records a fish tank in San Mateo, California, and the stream is maintained by its creator Lou Montulli.

Get the latest stories in your inbox every weekday.