Chatroulette: Mostly Blank Stares & Live Web Porn

March 30, 2010

12:10 am

Chatroulette has been the buzz of many marketers, technologist and Web enthusiasts for a few months now as it scored a New York Times article which proclaimed:

“Nothing can really prepare you for the latest online phenomenon, Chatroulette.”

If you haven’t heard about it yet, Chatroulette is a simple concept where two webcams are connected randomly from a selection of users across the globe. What you find on your computer screen could shock you or just bore you but typically it won’t last long as the predominant behavior is to jump from one chat video camera to the next, like a Star Trek federation ship jumping into warp drive and landing in a new universe. Or more simply put, it’s like StumbleUpon for real-time video chat. I recently did a quick test and flipped the channel 10 times. 5 out of the ten were blank stares looking back and me and the other 5 were male reproductive organs. It can be a bit eye opening…or covering.

Chat rooms are not a new thing, in fact AOL had some of the first chat rooms back in the 1990’s and many a chat session was driven by “after dark” activities. AIM chat continues that way today (not to say they don’t have clean chats too!).  So, it should be no surprise that Chatroulette is plagued by the same phenomenon because, bottom line, that’s what happens in chat rooms. The Web is filled with them and has been for over a decade.

So why is Chatroulette gaining people’s attention? Two things. First, Chatroulette was developed by a 17-year-old Russian named Andrey Ternovskiy. Yes, a 17 year old. Secondly, I think it is due in part to people’s curiosity and drive to meet and interact with new people. You feel a rush when you hit the “Next Game” button and connect with some random strangers on the other end of the line – or some part of them anyway. It’s kind of like randomly dialing a phone number just to see who picks up, yet more voyeuristic.  While the service, as it is, isn’t particularly useful for anything other than an awkward laugh at your next cocktail party or mindless time waster, I think the low barrier to entry, random thrill/gaming element and easy connectivity of Chatroulette touches on something that could be interesting, useful and inspiring if put to good use.

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Frank Gruber is the cofounder, CEO and Executive Editor of Tech.Co (formerly Tech Cocktail). He is the author of the book, Startup Mixology, Tech Cocktail’s Guide to Building, Growing, and Celebrating Startup Success. He is also a startup advisor and investor to startups. Find Frank Gruber online and follow him on Twitter at @FrankGruber.

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