Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A Rousing Game of Chatroulette

For a few weeks now, I have purposely ignored any post in Google Reader that had the word Chatroulette in it, primarily because I had no idea what it was, and, quite frankly, didn't care. However, now that I actually went out of my way and looked it up, I am quite interested. Chatroulette is a online video chat service that pairs you up with random strangers to chat. At first look, this seems like probably the most idiotic service to provide on the face of the Earth. I mean, who wants to video chat with strangers, right? Actually, the site now attracts 3.9 million users worldwide. So what exactly can you do in this service that makes it so interesting, and why are people around the world logging in to speak with strangers?

Unfortunately for me, Javascript is acting up in all of my browsers, and thus I have not had the experience of participating in Chatroulette for myself. But as far as I heard, the service is pretty simple. You are randomly assigned a partner, to whom you can speak and chat endlessly until either one of you presses the Next button, where the process starts all over. Further responses to the service have shown it can be both brutal or hilarious. Chances are you will fall into one of three groups. The first large group is those who are constantly rejected, meaning every partner will press next seconds after you appear. As expected, a lot of people are probably looking for young, sexy people of the opposite sex, and most people do not fit that description. The next large group is those that will run into somebody either dressed up as an animal, has a weird picture loaded instead of themselves, is Rick-rolling their partners, or just a straight up penis shot (I do not exaggerate). In fact, I rather liked Gizmodo's Chatroulette Bingo board. This is to be expected, and there are many screenshots of how far this can go. The final, very small group, comprises of those who actually meet somebody interested, and have a legitimate conversation. Why is this group so small? Because what the hell would you talk about with a random stranger?

Why people are flocking to this service is even more confusing than what's on the site in the first place. In fact, after seeing what goes on in the temporary chat rooms, the question of why becomes even more interesting than before I had any idea what Chatroulette was. My theory is that the service plays on a person's sense of fun and adventure. For those who are (or run in to) the people dressed as animals or other humorous characters, the appeal is obvious. But for others, it's a little more complex. Parents have always stressed stranger danger, and the outside world is indeed a dangerous place, imposing a type of mild xenophobia on the entire population, or at least in the United States where the common personality of an individual is more independent and individualistic. So being able to go against this almost natural instinct, and safely face your fears (even if you are not explicitly aware of such fears) is a bit of a thrill. In addition to all of this, the novelty and mystery of who you might run in to and what might happen is an adventure in an of itself. So being able to go on an online, safe, live video and audio adventure, complete with mystery and intrigue, is actually quite awesome.

As I said before, though, the site will probably be ruined by the large group of humorous mess-arounds, who dress up as animals, put pictures of fat women or men over their actual camera stream, or feed Rick Astley nice and loud in place of their camera. Furthermore, I have no doubt people looking for a quick relationship will be plentiful. So while the service is an adventure, and I hope to one day try it out if my browser starts working again, I do not foresee it growing any more than it already has.



    Just a taste of chatroulette for you.