Recently, YouTube, MySpace and Facebook have welcomed a newcomer to the online social networking table.
That newcomer is Chatroulette, a webcam driven Web site that allows its users to meet random strangers and chat with them via live, streaming video. Although it sounds innocent enough, there is a lot more to Chatroulette than meets the eye, with a surprise waiting after every click of the “next” button.
“When I think of Chatroulette the first thing that comes to mind is complete chaos and just having fun,” said senior Julieanne Collins.
“You can be yourself or you can be anyone you want. You get to meet people from faraway places or have a dance party with a total stranger. You’re bound to see everything when you’re on Chatroulette.”
Chatroulette was created by Andrey Ternovskiy, a 17-year-old high school student from Moscow, Russia. According to an interview with the German newspaper, Der Spiegel, Ternovskiy grew bored of chatting with friends over Skype, saying he always knew who was waiting for him and who he would be speaking to.
After searching for a Web site that would allow him to video chat with random strangers and finding no such Web site, he decided create one.
Since its start in November 2009, the number of daily users has grown immensely. According to the same interview, there were 500 users when the Web site launched and with one month’s passing there were 50,000. Ternovskiy estimates that as of March there will be 1.5 million users.
The Web site itself is set up simply enough with two windows on top of each other, one showing the feed from your webcam and the other the stranger’s. There is a dialogue box next to the two windows for writing text and “new game,” “next” and “pause” buttons. All the user has to do is click the “new game” button to begin chatting.
Once logged into Chatroulette you never know what you’re going to see, which is half the fun.
As a new session begins you may come across a wide variety of things or people – someone from a different country, a sketch artist who will draw your picture, a band streaming one of their live shows or bored college kids looking for some entertainment.
“My roommate and I actually tricked girls from Maine into thinking we were London socialites who just got back from a promoting a party with celebrities,” Collins said.
This seems to be what much of the appeal is for Chatroulette: the mystery and excitement of the unknown and not knowing what’s going to pop up next.
“I once came across the Jonas Brothers but I’m sure it was a prank, the video seemed to be on a loop,” sophomore James Ward said.
However, no good comes without some bad though and Chatroulette is no exception. There is a lot of controversy surrounding the site since it’s riddled with pranks and mature or inappropriate content. Unfortunately, more often than not the user is subject to something crude or disgusting.
“Most of the people you meet either click next immediately or aren’t really paying attention,” junior Brian Cook said. “They really do need a filter because 12-year-old girls can see some guy masturbate.”
Chatroulette says that its users must be at least 16 to login but has no means of verifying this. A user can be reported for offensive content but the punishment is only a 10-minute block from the site.
The question on many minds is will Chatroulette be just another fad.
Collins said, “I think Chatroulette will be around for a while but I don’t think it will ever be as popular as Facebook.”
Ronan O’Brien can be reached at email@example.com.