First there was MySpace, then Facebook, then Twitter. Now another phenomenon is spreading, though behind closed doors: Chatroulette. Some may have tried it. Some may have heard of it. Others may be entirely ignorant of what it means. To clear confusion, Chatroulette is a Web site that randomly pairs complete strangers in webcam conversations. Anonymous and random, it’s basically meeting new people with no strings attached.
How does the typical Chatroulette encounter go? “Typical” isn’t really the right word. Sometimes, two strangers will actually talk. Often, one will be “nexted” – a function that allows users to press a “next” button to move to another random person – so one just sees a flash of the stranger. Other times, the anonymity opens the door for profanity. “Exhibitionists seem to feel the need to commit lewd acts … sometimes alone, sometimes together,” Lindsey Graham ’13 said. “Some people turn their cameras off. Those are, I think, the biggest creeps. They can see you, but what are they doing?”
Ask around, and it isn’t too hard to find quite a few people on campus who admit they frequent the site. Some users have found that the proportion of men to women who visit Chatroulette is quite skewed. “I would say that three-quarters of the people on Chatroulette are college-aged men,” Peter Skipper ’13 said. “Seriously, all you see is college aged dudes just chillin’ trying to meet some ‘hot biddies’ over the Internet. It’s kind of embarrassing.”
According to Marijke DeVos ’11, the said college-aged guys can be rather selective about who they talk to and who they “next”: “I tried Chatroulette with my guy friends for the first time,” she said. “We soon discovered that when the three of us were all on-screen, most people clicked past, but if the guys went off-screen and it was just me, there were a lot more guys who wanted to talk … So it devolved into us tricking them – my friends would hide off-screen and once a guy started talking to me, we would turn the computer to my friend with his shirt off.”
Scarily enough, though, some of the girls who use the site are quite young. “The girls are mostly trashy-looking and young teenagers. Legitimately young children, like 10- or 11-year-olds sometimes,” Graham said. “If they saw half of the things that I have, I’d be very afraid for the future of America.”
Unsurprisingly, one main attraction of Chatroulette is that it is a good way to procrastinate or just kill some time (and maybe brain cells). Bex Rosenblatt ’12, for example, takes on fictious personalities, communicating mainly with the typing function instead of talking. “I pretend that I am an Austrian studying at the Universität Graz,” she said. “It has led to some interesting conversations, with quite a few people thinking that Austria is either Australia or a province of it.” Sometimes she encounters people who are actually German and Austrian, and has conversations in German, using her German 104 knowledge. “Because I am only typing, it is easier to keep up the illusion that I am actually Austrian even while I frantically use Google Translate,” she said. The longest Roseblatt has kept someone tricked with her German skills is 20 minutes.
Because people from around the world log onto Chatroulette, connecting with people who speak foreign languages is not all that unusual and can, as Rosenblatt discovered, be quite entertaining. Haotian Xu ’13 once had a conversation in French that was quite fun – at first. “Once I was talking to someone from some French-speaking country. I mean, he must have been from France, because there aren’t that many French-speaking countries,” Xu said. “It was really interesting because I could speak a little French.” However, unlike Rosenblatt, Xu is no French scholar. “Then he started speaking all this French stuff, and I couldn’t understand. I quickly disconnected, because I was like, ‘What kind of stupid French person doesn’t speak English?’”
Raunchy and ridiculous encounters aside, there is also occasionally the potential to have a legitimate conversation on Chatroulette. Marisa Lupo ’12 admitted that Chatroulette is indeed a fun way to waste time. “Usually the conversations I have are short and awkward, but it’s still fun,” Lupo said. She has also had her fair share of creepers and nudity (the “next” button lets you skip that). “Once, though, I had a really long talk with a student at Lehigh. We just talked about random things – dreams, bearcats, roommates, etcetera,” she said. “Long story short, we are now Facebook friends.”
Lupo brought up an interesting point: a crossover in technology between Facebook and Chatroulette. The first time Marina Bousa ’13 went on Chatroulette, she did it as a joke. However, she actually had quite an interesting experience. “[I] talked to this kid who actually looked pretty normal. He had a lot of lacrosse paraphernalia in the background – he was on the Duke lax team,” Bousa said. “We actually discovered we had a series of friends in common with him, which was sort of funny and creepy. Needless to say, we’re now Facebook friends.”
So is Chatroulette worth a try? According to Graham, no. “I would not recommend it overall,” she said. “If you want to see porn, you should just go and watch porn.” However, one must admit Chatroulette does have its benefits. It’s a great way to have weird funny conversations with complete strangers whom you will hopefully never see again in your life. Jeff Faucet ’13, for one, put a plug in for the site’s merits, despite its bad rep. “You get to see what different people are like,” Faucet said. “It’s such an interesting concept – having, say, 10 conversations with completely different random people within just a few minutes. There’s definitely something to be said for it.”