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The World Wide Web continues to expand and offer a dazzling array of new features designed to lure visitors away from their jobs with information and entertainment.
One such development is digital camera technology that generally enables Web browsers to view videos or a series of images from cameras trained on especially interesting subjects.
As we report this week, Lloyd's of London agency Beazley Furlonge Ltd. has placed cameras in its underwriting box, where visitors to its Web site, www.beazley.com, can be enthralled by the sight of people. . .underwriting insurance. To curtail the risk of all Business Insurance staff members abandoning their regular duties to engage in this brand of "Truman"-esque voyeurism, I have had to consider placing limits on their Internet access. No doubt many companies around the world will have to do the same, as employees with a yen for live-action insurance watch the Beazley box in the hopes of catching the underwriters in some act of shocking spontaneity.
In the early days of the Internet, when only the defense community and NASA had mainframes powerful enough to actually run video images without crashing the computer or taking six days to download, a prehistoric cousin of the video feed that enjoyed limited popularity was the screen shot of something notable. This was a still photo, updated periodically, that purported to show something really interesting and worth coming back to in case the image changed.
I recall one site-I am not making this up-that featured an image of a guy's refrigerator updated regularly (Look at that mold grow! Were there six cans of beer in there last hour?). Another was a site that featured a picture of a toilet bowl. One visit to the toilet cam was enough; I didn't want to be around when that image changed.
Yes, it was from these humble beginnings that the World Wide Web got its start and grew to the multimedia phenomenon it is today.
One of the more notorious sources of live images on the Web is not the Beazley box but the JenniCAM (www.jennicam.org), where a digital camera in the apartment of a Washington, D.C., woman provides choppy glimpses of and commentary on her everyday life.
The Beazley box and JenniCAM are not alone. An Internet search for "web cams" turned up 49 sites devoted to animals, insects and pets; 35 associated with colleges or universities; 202 indoor cameras; and 272 outdoor cameras.
This got me to thinking about whether people would visit the BI Web site in greater numbers if we put up a live camera in our editorial office in Chicago. I imagined the loyal following we would get from people curious about how a magazine is put out ("Why aren't they doing anything? They just sit there.").
No doubt, people would visit often in the hopes of seeing someone arrive before 9 a.m. They would thrill to our consumption of junk food, donuts and candy ("What's the point of eating Reduced Fat Oreos?").
They would marvel at the reams of press releases that come across our fax machine, watching on the off chance of seeing a staffer snatch their own missive from the machine and run screaming through the office. They would wait online in the hopes of being there on the one day each week that I spill coffee on myself ("I see a spot! There, on his sleeve!")
They would tune in after a noteworthy event, especially after a breaking event on a Friday (hurricanes, plane crashes, broker mergers or Supreme Court rulings), to watch us rip up pages and run around like chickens with our heads cut off as we revise page 1.
They could log on while being interviewed by a reporter to watch his or her face crumble as they say, "You're not going to quote me on that, are you?"
All this and so much more would be available to the person who would want a sneak peek behind the scenes at Business Insurance.
On second thought, maybe it's better that the public not see how Business Insurance is put out.
Editor Paul D. Winston and Publisher and Editorial Director Kathryn J. McIntyre publish columns on alternative weeks.