Plug Pulled on Web's Historic Coffeepot

ByABC News
March 7, 2001, 11:02 AM

March 7 -- The Web's most famous coffeepot is taking a coffee break.

For almost a decade, computer scientists at Britain's Cambridge University have watched their coffee brewing on what is touted as the world's first Webcam.

But the ravages of time and geography are now consigning the world's most-watched coffeepot to Web history.

"The Webcam will be turned off because it has served its purpose, it has no use anymore," Daniel Gordon, a research associate at Cambridge University's computer laboratory told

In the world of technophiles, geeks and sundry Web enthusiasts, the Trojan coffeepot, as it is popularly called, is almost the Internet era equivalent of Guttenberg's bible or Edison's light bulb.

At the height of its fame, nearly 2.4 million viewers from all over the world clicked to watch the nondescript pot which had such humble beginnings.

A Practical Feature

It all began in 1991 when computer scientists at Cambridge University, frustrated at making a trip down two floors to the coffee machine only to find an empty coffeepot, decided they couldn't take it anymore.

So they set up a camcorder, aimed it at the pot and wrote a code that would enable them to watch the image of their brewing pot on their screens in the computer lab. This way, they could make the trip only when the pot was full.

In the democratic spirit of the Internet, the computer scientists at Cambridge University are loath to credit the idea to an individual. "Nobody's quite sure whose idea it was," said Gordon, who was on the team who set up the program back in 1991. "We all decided it was a good idea, so we coded it into our internal system."

Those were the early days of the Internet, when the Web as we know it now wasn't quite born. The coffeepot stayed on the Cambridge University Intranet until 1993, when Gordon and other scientists hosted it on the World Wide Web.

Then came instant success.

A Star Is Born

Inexplicably for the scientists, thousands of viewers logged on to watch the varying levels of a coffeepot. For them, it made as much sense as watching the green grass grow. Needless to say, the days of live Webcasts from racier locations such as college dormitories had not yet come to pass.