Parmonic Resources

#Throwbackthursday: The first Livestream

Here’s a fun fact for you: Twitch.tv, the most popular video gaming livestream service, has around 15 million daily users, and averages one million concurrent users.

Another fun fact: Twitch owes a lot of its success to a 128×128 pixel Krups coffee machine.

Confused? Allow me to explain.

The Trojan Room Coffee Machine was a 1991 brinchild of Quentin Stafford-Fraser, a researcher in the University of Cambridge’s Computer Lab. At the time, there were 15 researchers there, and, according to Quinten, they were very poor, very tired, and drank obscene amounts of coffee.

Which is to say, they were academics.

Unfortunately, there was only one coffeepot between the 15, which sat outside the computer lab (dubbed the Trojan Room). Some of the researchers were on a different floor, and would be quite discouraged when they walked up the flight of stairs to find an empty pot awaiting them. Today, this is hardly an issue, because I could just send a Slack message to my team: “Fresh batch in the breakroom,” and avert any crisis. However, this is 1991, which meant Quentin had to get technical.

First, they connected a very small 128 pixel camera to an unused video capture card. Then, Fraser wrote a server program that took photos of the pot every three seconds. A client that ran on all laboratory-connected computers, dubbed XCoffee, displayed the recurring photos in the corner of a monitor.

This experiment would have most likely stopped after Quniten left the university, but in November 1993, the Internet decided it would be a good idea to allow images and videos to be posted. So, Daniel Gordon and Martyn Johnson took a new capture card, connected it all to the world wide web, and https://www.cl.cam.ac.uk/coffee/coffee.html was born. The internet had its first livestream, and it just so happened to be of a coffee pot.

The site became a mainstay of the early internet, when there was less clutter about, and lasted almost twenty years. In 2001, unfortunately (for the machine), the university built a new computer lab, and the camera was switched off on August 22nd.

The legacy of the Trojan Coffee Machine was apparent almost immediately; it’s shutdown made the front page of The TImes and The Washington Post. The last Krups machine used was refurbished pro bono by the company, and is on permanent loan in the Hienz Nixdorf museum in Paderborn. But perhaps more importantly, it gave rise to a genre of media never-before seen: staring at a thing across the world, via a series of tubes.

So when you watch a pre-teen play Fortnite, thank the University of Cambridge, Quentin Stafford-Fraser, and the Trojan Room.

Jacob Dent

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