ChatRoulette? (Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to see this site.)
Every once in a while, you have a close encounter of the pleasant kind with an absolute stranger: the person sitting next to you at the doctor's office, someone who e-mails you to follow up on a blog post they liked, the fellow-stranded passenger at the airport.
Someone starts the chat ball rolling, and the next thing you know you're, if not exactly BFF's, exchanging chapters of your life histories, playing six degrees of separation, or realizing that a guy who's 180 degrees from where you are on the political spectrum is not necessarily a frothing at the mouth crypto-fascist.
So I'm not averse to talking to strangers.
But there's talking to strangers, and then there's talking to strangers.
ChatRoulette, well, that's in the latter category.
I first read about it on CNN last week.
This is so not me. (And, I suspect if you're reading this, it is similarly so not you. But, fair and balanced, Pink Slip reports, you decide.)
ChatRoulette, the brain child of Andrey Ternovskiy, a Russian high school kid, is an on-line meet-up where you sit in front of your webcam-activated computer screen while a stream of other "players", connected by webcam, IM, and Skype, is randomly shuffling through a box on your screen. Players can click on you; you can click on a player. And, both parties willing, you've made a connection.
The trouble, of course, is who and what's lurking in front of the webcam on the other side.
Talk about stranger danger.
I went so far as to look at the home page. (Caution: I didn't get that far, and I'm sure you have to do something to get yourself started, but apparently you can't just see without being seen. CR will turn your webcam on for you.) Just the blank screen was scary enough.
This is so not me.
Sure, some of the folks might be interesting and/or friendly.You can imagine the other categories.
Two of the first four video chatters randomly selected for CNN by Chatroulette were naked when their pictures appeared. The fifth person simply held a sign up to the screen that read: "Please show me your boobs."
And for some jerk-offs, masturbation is apparently a lot more fun if you're doing it in front a webcam and someone 6,000 miles away might get a glimpse before they get a chance to hit the "next" button.
Needless to say, this site is going viral big time.
Late last fall, there were a handful (hah!) of users. Now there may be tens of thousands looky-lou-ing, or chatting away, at any given time. Whee!
Supposedly, it can be addictive. So, just as I'd never try heroin, I will be giving ChatRoulette a pass as well.
In truth, there's probably a higher likelihood that I'd get hooked on H than that I'd get hooked on CR. The thought of some sweaty, podgy creep doing whatever with himself - and I'm betting that folks don't stop with simple, straightforward onanism - while watching me react. Talk about yuck on yuck. Creepy, voyeuristic, crude - kind of like a Times Square peep show from the 1950's, only with two way peeps.
Just because you can play ChatRoulette doesn't mean you should...
There's no doubt in my mind that this idea will shake itself out and turn into a booming business. And that users will start to demand filters (which CNN reports is already happening), so that it becomes an online version of speed-dating meets Facebook.
That will, of course, somewhat defeat the purpose, which is that in order to be a player, you've got to be willing to take the random walk down what could turn out to be Elm Street in Pleasantville, or Pornucopia.
Of course, Facebook could just incorporate the random-shuffle aspect of ChatRoutlette and be done with it (if they haven't already) .
Even if I wanted to be a ChatRoulettiere, I probably couldn't be:
According to reports and a firsthand test, the large majority of the site's users are male and overwhelmingly young. Several reports suggest people in their 30s will be mocked on the site for being "old."
Okay, so it's mostly for the South Park, Beavis and Butthead demographic, who -heh-heh- might enjoy the chance that they'd see someone - heh-heh- spanking his monkey - heh-heh.
Of course, it's just a matter of time before someone does something a lot worse than jerk off on ChatRoulette. It sounds like the perfect milieu for snuff, kiddie porn, suicide, animal torture... Which means that, as a business, it would need to be monitored and run by someone other than a 17 year old kid. And that someone should have deep pockets, because it's hard to believe that there won't be lawsuits popping up at some point.
Meanwhile, there's a pretty funny article by New York Magazine's Sam Anderson, whose CR foray was a bust:
I entered the fray on a bright Wednesday afternoon, with an open mind and an eager soul, ready to sound my barbaric yawp through the webcams of the world. I left absolutely crushed. It turns out that ChatRoulette, in practice, is brutal. The first eighteen people who saw me disconnected immediately. They appeared, one by one, in a box at the top of my screen—a young Asian man, a high-school-age girl, a guy lying on his side in bed—and, every time, I’d feel a little flare of excitement. Every time, they’d leave without saying a word. Sometimes I could even watch them reach down, in horrifying real-time, and click “next.” It was devastating...My longest exchange was with a guy who seemed to be wearing one of those protective cones you put on a dog after surgery. “LICK YOU ELBOW,” he typed. “Why?” I asked. He disconnected.
I got off the ChatRoulette wheel determined never to get back on. I hadn’t felt this socially trampled since I was an overweight 12-year-old struggling to get through recess without having my shoes mocked. It was total e-visceration. If this was the future of the Internet, then the future of the Internet obviously didn’t include me.
I'm with Sam here.