Ah, Christmas and its many traditions. The yule Log, the large ham, the jolly gift man, and, of course, turning an Alaskan family's lights on and off remotely.
I refer, of course, to the family of Ken and Rebecca-Ellen Woods, who since 2010 have allowed strangers to control the Christmas lights on their home in Fairbanks, Alaska, via the website christmasinfairbanks.com
It's pretty straightforward: Woods has rigged the outdoor lights so that they can be turned on or off with a click on his website, photos of which which are captured by a webcam and uploaded. It can be a little slow, or hard to tell if you're the one controlling a given light right when you click, but nonetheless it's fun to play with and kind of hypnotic to watch. Here's a video posted to YouTube by a friend of the Woods:
This year the Woods have added more lights, a counter that tracks people using the site, and a temperature tracker. As I write this, there are 415 people attempting to manipulate their Christmas decorations. All the lights are outdoors, Woods explained to ABC, and have been since the first year, when the one string of indoor lights would go on and off all night.
The project is at once simpler and more high-stakes than other crowd-controlled experiments like Twitch Plays Pokémon or Twitch Plays Tamagotchi, where users would (struggle to) play single player games as a crowd. And despite its simplicity, it's apparently popular: Ken Woods told ABC News "You would not believe the number of people who sit for hours and turn the lights off and on."
I've emailed Ken Woods to ask for specific reasons for the display, and if he has any cybersecurity concerns in a year full of hacked connected devices, and will update if he gets back to me. Update: Woods doesn't have security concerns because everything is run through a cloud service, so "nothing about the local connection is exposed to a user." He also says the site began as a way to share how the lights looked with friends and family.
In the meantime, try not to fry their circuits.
Ethan Chiel is a reporter for Fusion, writing mostly about the internet and technology. You can (and should) email him at firstname.lastname@example.org