Chatting face-to-face via webcam is not new. Yet there’s something novel and catchy with the way Chatroulette haphazardly pairs strangers from different parts of the world together for a video chat. This new web phenomenon now boasts of more than a million visitors each.
ChatRoulette: A Straightforward Premise
The creator of Chatroulette is a 17-year old high school dropout from Moscow named Andrey Ternovski on August 2009.
His website rather looks sparse and primitive when compared to other social networking sites like Facebook. There are only three boxes on the screen: one box for the user’s webcam feed, another displays the image of what the site calls “Partner.” The third box is for instant messaging.
Chatroulette.com uses Adobe Flash to display videos. Once accessed, the site automatically detects and activates the visitor’s webcam. Clicking “Start” brings the user face-to-face with another anonymous user on the screen.
The user can then either strike a conversation with the stranger or click “Next” and be set up immediately with a new partner – unless one’s partner does the dumping first.
Just like a game of roulette, Chatroulette revolves around the concept of randomness. People on Chatroulette interact like strangers chatting briefly on a train then go on their separate ways when the train stops, never to meet again.
It’s not like Facebook or MySpace, where there’s a kind of permanence or order to the system. ChatRoulette, on the other hand, is “chaos”. No need to be a friend of another user to view their picture.
Many Chatroulette interactions last only a few seconds. This brief span of time consists of, as Tim Walker of Independent aptly sums it up, “the time it takes the stranger to see you, decide on the evidence of your face or your wallpaper that you’re worth no more of their time, and click onto their next chat.” It is common for visitors to find themselves “Nexting” or being “Nexted.”
Once the “Next” button is clicked, there is no going back. There’s no undo button.
In ChatRoulette, anything goes. One may find an artist from Sweden speed drawing their face, five Korean girls dancing, an Indie band debuting an album. It is not uncommon to find unsavory things, too: exhibitionists showing his private part, a couple copulating, and more.
Some rules have been created to prevent pornographic or illegal activity:
- Users must signify they are over 16.
- No nudity/pornographic behavior.
- If a user breaks a rule, the user may report the person in the chat by pressing F2.
- If the same user receives three complaints, they are banned from using the service for 10 to 40 minutes.
Still, the rules are too lax – with no permanent bans – and as a result it is not uncommon for visitors to find themselves encountering nudity on screen.
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The Charm of ChatRoulette
Speaking to people one would not meet otherwise or ever see again is an adventure. With people unbounded by any strict rules, the experience can both be liberating and strange. Everything is spontaneous. The comical and the unsavory can happen here.
Is ChatRoulette a fad, or will it stay? Time will tell. After all, the website is not even a year old. For now, it seems there’s no stopping the growth of ChatRoulette.