Chatroulette is the latest application in Social Media. Where Twitter links users to people via microblogging, with 140 character entries and small user icons, Chatroulette connects people via webcam. Rather than spending endless hours looking for friends or people with similar interests, Chatroulette is completely random. The site is very spare and uncluttered. No registration is necessary and users can begin utilizing the application immediately with no setup. While the site may be used without a webcam, most users will find that potential chat partners will dismiss them promptly without one. Some users manipulate virtual or fake webcams to play or post prerecorded video.
Chatroulette was created by 17-year-old Andrey Ternovskiy from Russia. He created it for fun, without a business plan in mind. He utilizes very minimal advertising, with small links at the bottom of the page, to offset server costs. He plans to add new features in the near future. In December 2009, Chatroulette had only around 300 users. By March 2010, there are over 20,000 users as indicated on the site, but a Web Ecology Project survey conducted in early February revealed nearly 135,000 users online at one time. Viral marketing with YouTube videos and word of mouth has catapulted Chatroulette from a blip on the media radar screen to a full on must-see website. It has now been featured in the NY Times and USA Today newspapers as well as several other media outlets. The addictive element is immediately obvious. It’s akin to gambling. Will the stranger who appears on the screen chat or dismiss an interaction? Will the next person be interesting? Where will they be from?
What makes Chatroulette unique is the ability to use a webcam to visualize the chat partner. Twitter, Facebook, and other social networking tools are primarily text and still photos. The ability to interact live with people online has been utilized in programs such as WooMe.com, a site that provides chats of a less random nature with search terms for partners.
Chatroulette has already been imitated with Shuffle People, a video chat site that is nearly identical in layout. It even describes itself as a “Chat Roulette Style Webcam Chat”.
The application is very easy to use. Upon entering the site, a user’s webcam is automatically detected and initiated. By clicking “Play”, a “random stranger” is found. The chat window indicates communications as “You” and “Stranger”. If the user chooses not to chat with the random stranger, a new partner may be found by clicking “next”. Either party may “next” the other. There is also a button for reporting inappropriate content, located beside the “next” button. During a brief visit to Chatroulette.com, four out of fifty-five webcam “partners” were nude with the camera aimed at their genitals while performing sexual acts. Despite the terms of service clearly stating that this behavior is unacceptable, it was quite prevalent and disturbing. Many users were young, appearing to be in their early teens, and there were more men than women in this small sampling. Despite the claim that there were over 20,000 users online, the same “stranger” popped up twice in one 5 minute period. Often, the program lagged for more than 5 minutes as it was “Looking for a random stranger”.
There is no registration process. Users may simply click into the program.
The application is completely free. It is subsidized by a few unobtrusive advertisements from Google AdWords at the bottom of the web page.
Chatroulette is the next step in social media. It appeals to people looking for a way to pass the time and meet new people. Unfortunately, the content may be objectionable in nature as the anonymity of the interaction has allowed individuals to abuse it.