Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Technology Lesson: Chatroulette

Chatroulette is a Web-based "instant messaging" service that pairs users for video chat. I would link to the Website, but the site is mostly noted for its thousands of users who prefer nudity and sexual activity to harmless chatting while clothed. I worry about Old People.

Chatroulette was created last November by Andrey Ternovskiy, a 17-year-old in Moscow. From a February New York Times blog post:
The site, which gets about 20,000 users on a typical night, generates one-on-one Webcam connections between you and another randomly chosen user. The results are occasionally serendipitous, putting you face to face with an interesting person from another corner of the planet. More often though, the site is reminiscent of those old anything-goes AOL chat rooms, only with video. Let’s put it this way: Parents, keep your children far, far away. The site was well described in a New York magazine article recently and, oddly enough, was featured on “Good Morning America” on Saturday.
In case you can't tell, I really want to emphasize that I'm not comfortable with my parents visiting this site. For extra oomph, here is an explanation from Sam Anderson at New York magazine. (It wouldn't be untrue to say that I'm handing over explanation and hard work to others. I'm staying as far away from Chatroulette as I can.)
The site activates your webcam automatically; when you click “start” you’re suddenly staring at another human on your screen and they’re staring back at you, at which point you can either choose to chat (via text or voice) or just click “next,” instantly calling up someone else. The result is surreal on many levels. Early ChatRoulette users traded anecdotes on comment boards with the eerie intensity of shipwreck survivors, both excited and freaked out by what they’d seen. There was a man who wore a deer head and opened every conversation with “What up DOE!?” A guy from Sweden was reportedly speed-drawing strangers’ portraits. Someone with a guitar was improvising songs for anyone who’d give him a topic. One man popped up on people’s screens in the act of fornicating with a head of lettuce. Others dressed like ninjas, tried to persuade women to expose themselves, and played spontaneous transcontinental games of Connect Four. Occasionally, people even made nonvirtual connections: One punk-music blogger met a group of people from Michigan who ended up driving eleven hours to crash at his house for a concert in New York. And then, of course, fairly often, there was this kind of thing: “I saw some hot chicks then all of a sudden there was a man with a glass in his butthole.” I sing the body electronic.

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