Now that we’re just starting to take flight, I thought I’d offer something mildly entertaining to begin with…a disturbing, surreal, hilarious, occasionally enriching yet dangerously addictive experience which has recently emerged which either represents the future of the internet, or paradoxically, its dark distant past. Strap yourself in for ChatRoulette. (If we don’t hear of scare stories from ChatRoulette in the very near future by the way I will eat my proverbial hat.)
What’s it all about? The premise is as simple as the name suggests: this is a site that randomly brings you face-to-face, via webcam, with an endless stream of strangers all over the world to experience (or surrender to), the miraculous oddities mankind has to offer. Tim Walker of the Independent describes it best: “Chat Roulette is like some bastard child of Skype and Stumble Upon.” And it is. Barely believable that it’s taken so long for someone to create something so simple: adding video to randomly arranged chat rooms, but that’s pretty much all it is. Doesn’t sound much but it’s certainly an experience!
So what happens? On entering, the site activates your webcam automatically; when you click “start” you’re suddenly staring at another human on your screen and they’re staring back at you, at which point you can either choose to chat (via text or voice) or just click “next,” instantly calling up someone else. Most Chat Roulette exchanges last around 2 seconds: the time it takes the stranger to work out you're not worth another moment of their time. Unsurprisingly, it seems that around one click in every 10 brings you against masturbating men of all ages and sizes; however an equal amount seems to produce something entirely more enriching. In one night I chatted to a German maths teacher, was serenaded by a metal head from
Yes its surreal, yes its stupid yes it’s weird and yes its often downright disgusting but it does hold a strange magnetism (once someone stays around for more than 2 seconds!). Why? While we know the internet is a melting pot of order and chaos, recent web culture has been more defined by organising information (Google’s mantra). ChatRoulette is on the other hand pure chaos. It is in many senses a blast from the online past, it’s like the Wild West with no real means of managing the experience.. This however is exactly its appeal: spontaneity works.
The micro nature of CR also adds to the experience: the typical interaction is about 3 seconds: assessment, micro interaction, “next”. Certainly Twitteronian, the buzz from a micro interaction is surprising, but genuine and strangely very human. Indeed, meeting a new person can be a thrilling experience, if in a purely primordial sense. CR creates this moment over and over again. Arguably, clicking “next” is not a rejection, but grows more from basic curiosity, its all about unpredictability of the next stranger. Who are they, what will they do?
So, what does all of this mean, will it go mass? Well I doubt it will be the next YouTube / Facebook, and there are bound to be some pretty unpleasant abuses, but it is undoubtedly a brilliant, if completely insane potion of the odd, the funny, the pornographic, the cool and the lonely. Can / should it be tamed into something safer and organised? Should, for instance, you be able to filter by interest – non-fornicating brass-band loving, bookish teens in North America one night and complete chaos the next? This would either make things very interesting or ruin its magic completely – its all in the throw of the dice! Happy chatting (if you dare)