For those of you who haven’t heard of it, chatroulette is a 'stranger chat' website created by 17-year-old Russian student Andrey Ternovskiy. There is no sign-up, no account making, and no accountability. You simply click a button to allow the site access to your webcam, and it randomly hooks you up to a person anywhere in the world for a chat. And the webcam could be pointing at any part of their anatomy when you do hook up, so be prepared.
Parents, keep your children well away from this site! I'd read a few media reports saying that there were some dodgy people using it - the best statistics I could dig out suggested 71% men, 15% women and 14% perverts. Still, trying it myself I saw more male genitalia in half an hour than I had in my entire life to date, so I’m inclined to believe that the percentage is slightly skewed...
But I don't want to give you a false impression. Not all the users are nutters - just most of them.
The rules of the site are that you must be at least 16 years old and must not engage in pornographic behaviour. The latter of those two is mostly disregarded. As it is, the exhibitionism is illegal, but impossible to regulate due to all the different jurisdictions involved; so I dread to think what'll happen when a curious pre-teen gets hooked up to a pervert. If something like that happens, the legal case could get more tangled than a pair of iPod headphones 3 seconds after they've gone into your pocket.
Ternovskiy codes the site himself and still runs it from his childhood bedroom in Moscow, assisted by four remote programmers. His parents stumped up the initial $10,000 for him to start it up and he soon paid it back via revenue from online dating adverts. I don't foresee any other sort of company wanting to associate their brand with the sort of stuff that might pop up though.
That's the cons covered, anyway. It's not all bad. It is definitely an interesting social experiment. There are up to 35,000 people on the site at any one time, and the roulette wheel has no opinions on race, creed, background, religion, age, political leanings, etc. Or on fame, apparently; Ashton Kutcher, the Jonas Brothers, Perez Hilton, Paris Hilton and Kelly Osbourne are just some of the famous faces known to have tried the site.
There are definitely all sorts of people here. In a 30-minute test I clicked 'next' 23 times and got the following results:
The first was - unbelievably - two boys at school, sixth formers by my guess, who asked me to undress. A swift 'next'.
The second was a torso, then a hand which pulled another part of the anatomy into shot. An even swifter 'next'.
The first near-conversation I had was with a normal-looking girl in her 20s who asked if I speak French. Unfortunately, I don't, so that was the end of another chat.
Next, a man in his late 20s from Milan lulled me into a false sense of security by chatting nicely before offering to show me 'everythings you want to see'. As I could already see everything I wanted to see, I politely declined and moved on.
Two normal-ish blokes next, chatted briefly to one from Greece, the other 'nexted' me.
Then I had a male body part up on screen, which EdSpace's Henry was also lucky enough to witness as he stopped in for a chat on the way past. Next!
These were followed by: a clothed male torso from Washington DC; a young lady who 'nexted' me; another clothed male torso that pulled another (non-clothed) body part into view to make me move on quickly; the Washington DC torso again; a nice, normal architect from Istanbul chatting from an internet cafe; a torso whose only words were 'hi... sex?'; a normal-seeming guy from California who, after some chat, offered to let me 'watch him do his thing'; a torso from France, near Nice, who chatted for a while before offering sex; a guy in his 20s; a desk; adverts; the torso of a sunburnt guy from Exeter who seemed normal enough, and had clearly made the most of our one-weekend Great British Summer; a near-completely naked 24-year-old man from Israel; and finally a 35-year-old man from Scotland, who apparently 'likes girls in glasses', and after agreeing with me about there being a high volume of nutters on the site, asked if I 'like to watch'.
So, of the 14 people I actually spoke to, 13 of them were men; of those 13 men, 9 were dodgy characters.
The site is more next-gen voyeurism than social networking, so I suggest you stay away unless you like that sort of thing, or are well-prepared to go through a huge number of people before you find someone you can actually make conversation with!
About the author
Azaria Frost came to BCS in mid-2009, joining the Institute as a web editor right in the middle of the exciting transformation period. She originally trained in English and creative writing at university, and is a self-confessed gadgetophile and grammar guru.