Apparently some totally bizarre (and of course lame) marketing ploy thought up by the suits at Netscape to ruthlessly exploit the soothing qualities of fish. I don't know how you're supposed to get there through the Netscape site (if you were just browsing a slick corporate URL, which probably qualifies as ungeekish activities anyway!), but I was teleported there by some unknown Easter Egg in the Navigator. If I ever manage to reproduce it, I'll let you know.
The URL is http://fishcam.netscape.com/fishcam/fishcam.html. Fishcams are a fairly common (albeit braindead) idea, but the amazing thing is just how much this one sucks. There are three webcams trained on the fishtank, with atrocious lighting, murky water, no visible fish, a chunk of sick-looking coral, and (when I looked) someone's finger pointing at nothing much). Weak peripheral "cartoon" animation and weaker special effects (which don't work, at least with the latest version of Communicator!) abound.
But that's nothing! This page is just there to invite you to "Check out the Continuously Refreshing Fishcam". On this wonderful page, subtitled (I kid you not) "Always refreshing, never bitter, quench your thirst with a tall cool glass of fishcam" Is a small image of the fishtank, showing (animated!) "a compilation of all the images taken over the last hour at 15 second intervals". Occasionally you manage to glimpse a fish through the murk and bad lighting, but then in the next picture it's gone. Soothing?! Gave me a headache, instead.
All of this exciting breakthrough concept-thing, is supposed to encourage you to click on "Find out more about how this page works". You'd never guess they could make movies this way! "The Great Idea" as they put it, is Dynamic Documents! Your browser will just keep requesting more and more html pages with the new images! They're pushing the "magic" of Client Pull! No wonder the animation sucks: they're using the <META http-equiv "Refresh"> html tag for animation, and proud of it!
Just go there. Words cannot do justice to the corporate cluelessness.
Stop Press! Important update December 13 2002
I read lj's witty and informative reply, and decided to head back and find out if the Netscape Fishcam could, indeed, be a Neuromancer-like remake of Lord of the Rings, and a technical innovation to boot, rather than a lame, uninspired, homegrown project, taken over by the suits to help market the product, or summat. I used the latest stable Mozilla, which is not quite Netscape, but should do just as well. My in-depth report follows.
Dynamic Documents no longer being highlighted here quite so prominently. That's a relief. I don't think that's going to be the way internet movies develop. But perhaps that's the idea which sparked Divx? Client Pull also not being advertised, but evidently still the technology of choice. At least someone's using the META tag for something!
Fish: This is what the Fishcam is about, right? There are now two cameras. One of them is still showing murky nothing. The right half of the picture is just black, the left half is black which has been slightly image-processed. The other camera is displaying what appears to be an extreme blowup of the small font text "Not enough light. Please try again later." and a timestamp. No fish. Bummer.
Static fish: There's a still photo of the tank on the main page, though. You can see a lot of coral, and some shapes which might be fish. They're hard to make out though, which is another bummer.
Animated fish: There's an Amazing DHTML Fish Tank, purporting to show animated fish swimming in a bluish rectangle with immobile kitschy bubbles. It says they can do normal swimming and synchronised swimming. It doesn't work for me. I just see one fish floating outside the "tank", at the top left corner. Bummer again.
Non-fish: there's still a lot about the fishcam. There's more, in fact. There's a quote from the Economist, saying this is maybe the best thing ever on the Internet (not even second best after E2). Also, it says it's the second-oldest webcam (like, wow), and the most-visited one (yeah right, the spam I get is all about Hot Nude Fish on Live Camera Now). Then there's all the technical crap on the cameras they use (hello! I can't see anything!), the server, the fishtank, the filtration system, and the final spoiler, the easter egg. It says ctrl-alt-F will work on Mozilla, too, but it didn't do anything for me. What a bummer.
Update! Vital new info July 9 2005
After disappearing suddenly from our lives (see lj's touching obituary below), I am glad (?) to announce that the Netscape Fishcam lives on, not only in our hearts and minds. If they keep up this level of excitement, I'll find myself running the NSFC blog.
http://wp.netscape.com/fishcam/ is where it's at. The front page is now slicker, but has the added value of showing actual honest-to-god fish. These are now clearly visible, although it is a still photo. There are two "LIVE Fish Cam Video Feed"s: a big-picture one with a non-refreshing picture of an out-of-focus striped fish in it, and a small one, similarly non-refreshing, showing what might be gravel, a dim rock, and some bubbles. Ah, so soothing. "The Amazing Netscape Fishcam" is still touted as the greatest thing since sliced salmon. There is now less technical info about the web page, presumably to protect the wonders of client pull video technology.
Other peripheral info includes still photos of the fish, so you know what you're missing, and stuff about the tank and filtration system. DHTML fish still promoted as a wonderful alternative to the fishcam, and these -- I'll say that for them -- do actually work, although they are singularly mind numbing.
This was all tested on a recent Firefox build. Maybe things will work better on Innernet Exploder? Oh, the Easter Egg, advertised to work on Mozilla and Netscape, doesn't on my Firefox. Perhaps the good people cut it out.
/msg me if you have more in-depth information to reveal about this important facet of the internet. Anonymous sources will be protected.