Viewfinder: A New Use for WebCams

I have never been enamored with WebCams. Historically, Videomaker magazine has focused upon the craft of making video. This includes operating a camera, creating good lighting, capturing good sound, directing talent, editing, mixing sound effects, adding titles and graphics, and so on and so forth. WebCams require little of these video production skills.

That is not to suggest that WebCams do not have their place in the world. They are perfect for many purposes: commuter traffic, reporting ski and surf conditions, teleconferencing or sending video e-mails. There is nothing as meaningful as a "real time" image to communicate the events in a distant location.

Recently, I had an idea for a WebCam application that could be helpful to underprivileged people in the world. This application is best described as a "distance food vending machine" (DFVM). We have all become familiar with distance learning, which utilizes Web sites and/or closed circuit TV. Distance food vending allows generous donators to feed hungry people located far away.

DFVMs would look similar to photo booths that we use for passports and fun in amusement arcades. The person sits on a stool inside a booth with a curtain for privacy and looks into a camera to have an image captured. However, the DFVM is different in three ways.

1) First, the images captured are not stills but moving images with sound. The images are not output to paper in the booth, but travel over the Internet to someone who is curious, sympathetic and willing to make a donation.

2) The person sitting in the booth does not get photos at the end of the session, they get food.

3) The person sitting in the booth does not have to pay. The person viewing the WebCam makes the payment.

The DFVM will facilitate something akin to a hungry pen pal that a charitable person can have regular communication with. The charitable donators can be more certain that their money is going to real people that need and appreciate the help. To accommodate the people in the relief camps, dozens or hundreds of these booths would be set up. Currently, agencies distribute food to the hungry financed by donations that I will call "abstract". People who make donations to charitable organizations have an abstract notion that their money is relieving suffering. They read newsletters, Web pages and view photographs, however, these donators don’t really know who benefits from their help. Some non-profit groups allow the donator to "sponsor a child" which is a wonderful concept.

Occasionally, I write about things in this Viewfinder column that may not be totally applicable to video production, but I thought that, at least some of you would enjoy considering this concept.

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