It took a 17-year-old student from Moscow to put the idea into existence and now an estimated 500,000 visitors head over to Chatroulette each and every day to experience the world of haphazard webcam chatting.
What would possess a person to want to take part in an “online stranger chat?” Whatever the reason, Chatroulette is already a web phenomenon. Celebrities claim to have used the site, with a few unverified sightings of Jessica Alba and Paris Hilton making the rounds. Ashton Kutcher, John Mayer, and Kelly Osborne are among the celebs claiming to have used the site, too.
The basic premise of Chatroulette is, for the uninitiated, relatively simple. The site uses Flash to display video and access user webcams. Users are then tossed into random one-on-one conversations and, while “pornographic behaviour” is outlawed by the site, pretty much anything goes. A host of sites and Facebook groups exist to discuss and share the strangest of the strange from Chatroulette.
As one enamoured with the strangest of the strange myself, I decided to hook up my ridiculously old webcam to take to the adventure that is Chatroulette. Ensuring that I had actually shaved for a change, I put my pants back on and hopped aboard.
Getting started on Chatroulette is simply a matter of making sure everything is properly hooked up and clicking the “New Game” button. Before I could say “old man’s penis,” I was whisked off into the wonderful world of Chatroulette.
One of the first things to realize is that it’s easy to take being “nexted” personally – at first. The feature of Chatroulette that is most popular is that of the blessed “Next” button. Users can “next” their chat partners immediately and be set up with a fresh victim, er, partner with the simple click of a button or the simple press of the F9 key.
In my maiden voyage on Chatroulette, I found myself being “nexted” about a dozen times before I met up with someone I actually spoke with. In the passing faces and body parts, I noticed an assortment of male genitals and Eastern European facial features. I also noticed plenty of blank screens.
Had I been prepared to screenshot some of the more compelling faces, I would have been able to capture what looked like a Bob Dylan impersonator smoking a cigarette and holding a pet rabbit. Alas, you’re just going to have to take my word for it.
Finding perverts and penises on the internet is pretty easy and finding them on Chatroulette is, as you might expect, unbelievably easy. It’s not hard to imagine the indignation that this sort of thing brings about and it didn’t take long for the moral hullabaloo about the nature of the site and about its potential as a breeding ground for predators to begin.
It is true that Chatroulette can be an intimidating place, but it is true that online browsing of any kind can be scary. That’s what makes the internet so wild and wonderful a place – one false move and you’re up to your elbows in clown porn.
At the end of the day, what makes the internet magnificent is also what makes Chatroulette magnificent. Once I got the hang of things and got over being personally insulted each time I was “nexted,” I actually started to enjoy myself.
I spoke with a young man from China and was insulted by a group of Tunisian teenagers, all in the span of about five minutes. I also spoke to an Australian gentleman wearing a skull mask and shared an online beer toast with a dude from California. As expected, the ratio of males to females was pretty unbalanced. I think in my hour or two of browsing the site I came across one female for every 15 males.
In any event, I do have to say that my maiden voyage on Chatroulette was relatively entertaining. The strangest of the strange weren’t out in force by any means, but there were plenty of opportunities to experience some peculiar sights that I most assuredly would not wish to see again. Jessica Alba didn’t show up, although a hirsute chap humping an Asian sex doll did.
There’s something awesomely surreal about the sense of community the internet can bring, however, and there’s something mesmerizing about Chatroulette and the adventure of chatting with an absolutely random person. The act of encountering a complete stranger can be startling, but there's something bracing about what could be popping up in that next dim window.