Chatroulette appeared on the social media scene in 2009 and quickly became famous, then notorious, inspired numerous clones and parody sites, and then seemingly disappeared into oblivion.
The idea for this site appeared in the mind of Andrey Ternovskiy - a 17 year old boy from Moscow, and it’s the perfect combination of things many internet enthusiasts have been waiting for – a random chat and live video feed. It gave people the opportunity to meet a completely unknown person, without choosing the person’s location, gender or interests, and to see them on webcam.
Chatroulette is extremely simple to use – you just switch on the camera (or not) press ‘start’ and get connected to a random person. Usually you can see their cam feed and a location, if they submitted it. And then you can start talking to them – unless they already ‘nexted’ you, that is moved on to another random person, having decided that you’re not the person they want to talk to.
It’s possible to enable or disable both camera and microphone, so the users can either have a text chat with or without video or a voice chat. However, the users who decide not to use their cameras might not get a chance to talk to anyone at all, because they might get nexted all the time.
Chatroulette’s main and unsolved problem is the nudity. It seems like the possibility of being completely anonymous while meeting random people from faraway places brings out the exhibitionist in many people, and the ones who prefer to chat with fully clad interlocutors have no way of avoiding a sudden penis view. There is an attempt of customizing the people we connect to, by choosing a preferred location or marking one of the boxes with nudity attitude (I don’t mind or I don’t want to see any) but it simply doesn’t work. Another thing the users complain about is the uneven ratio of men to women users. This site seems to be totally dominated by men, with the women being less than 20% of the users. If a user really wants to be able to choose the gender of the people he gets connected with, he can buy a ‘token’ for 10 or 50$ which gives him respectively a 100 or 500 ‘premium connections – that is only with women or only with men.
As there have been many complaints about the offensive content, now anyone can report a user who behaves inappropriately, and the ones who get 3 reports in the span of 5 minutes get blocked for about an hour, which is not really an effective method of making the site ‘safer’.
It seems like no effort has been put into making Chatroulette a good or even interesting looking site. It’s extremely simple, even old-school with standard looking windows, buttons, and gray color palette.
Chatroulette in a way is exactly what many internet users want – the ultimate random chatroom where you never know who you’re going to meet next, and what will happen. It is a bit like the essence of Internet, with the randomness, crazy meme generation, unexpected nudity and awkward atmosphere. It is probably a perfect place for lonely flashers, but what about people who just want a ‘normal’ chat with a topic, some full sentence use and no offensive content? They might have big difficulties with finding a person to talk to, and might have to go through dozens of windows with half naked guys and requests to show their own anatomy before they stumble upon someone who actually want to talk. Apart from that, the site is incredibly sexist – men get constantly nexted by other men, while the women get all the attention.
It definitely has its good points, such as the possibility of talking to people we would not have met otherwise, and that can be really enlightening. Some users say that the thrill of meeting new people like this can even be a bit addictive, and that some genuine friendships have evolved from the chat.
However, the annoying or uncomfortable features seem to outweigh the positives, for example, the whole ‘nexting’ idea can be depressing for people with low self-esteem who might feel judged and rejected. Also a site like that is a parent’s nightmare – there’s no warning about adult contents, no working filter, not even a window that says ‘over 18, practically any kid who finds this site can get instant access to its often offensive content.