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June 14, 2010

Is Chatroulette losing its already limited appeal?

And I mean "limited" in the sense that you must probably like male genitals if you're hanging around the site for long.

Chatroulette is an interesting concept. Basically, it's totally random, totally anonymous, chatting with people. It appears that it requires a webcam of some sort, though it doesn't require a microphone (though it would certainly help!). There's no way for anybody you hook up with to identify who you are, unless you tell them, so your anonymity is assured. The idea is that this will make people less inhibited to say and do things.

Sometimes that's a bad thing.

If you've heard anything about Chatroulette, you've probably heard how prominent the male sex organ is on it. A lot of guys seem to love the anonymity because it gives them a chance to jerk off in front of somebody and they will never know who it is. It's kinda sad, actually.

If you do a cursory web search, you'll find sites that have the "best chatroulette videos" posted (yes, while you are anonymous, you can be recorded if the person has the right software, so beware). These usually don't involve male genitals, though they do sometimes involve female nudity (for some reason, nobody wants to post male genitals for posterity...I can't imagine why).

But most of the time, these "best" screenshots or videos just involve general weirdness, like somebody dressed up like a cat:

(with thanks to Buzzfeed)

There have been some interesting Chatroulette stories popping up, like Ben Folds doing a concert on Chatroulette (you can see the various videos on Youtube with just a simple search). Some people really love the site (like Katie Baker from Wired).

But it's just so hard to wade through the junk to get to anything even remotely resembling good.

So what made me decide to blog about it today? Mashable has an article up, "Will People Still Visit Chatroulette if They Can't See Penises?"

In the article, they talk about how the 17-year-old Russian founder of the company behind Chatroulette, Andrey Ternovskiy, would like to get some investors involved. Meanwhile, traffic on Chatroulette dropped 7% in May.

"What is Chatroulette really about, though? Is Chatroulette a social utility for people to meet each other through video? Is it an entertainment tool for groups of friends? Or is it just an anonymous network where anything goes?

These are important questions for Ternovskiy to answer before a turnaround becomes possible. Legitimizing the service by weeding out the genitalia may make it more viable to investors, but it could potentially accelerate its decline, not reverse it. It all depends on how people want to use the service. Changing a user’s habits is one of the most difficult things to do. Getting people to buy into Chatroulette as a useful social utility might be a very hard sell."

One thing he is talking about doing is doing something that will filter out all of the male genitals on the site. But will "legitimate" users take their place? Or will traffic plummet?

Sadly, without some kind of change to the service, as well as something that will attract "normal" people to it, I don't see this ultimately succeeding.

It looks to me like a flash in the pan.


  1. I just looked into what exactly Chatroulette was only because I had heard about it and hadn't a clue. Since many computers come with a built in web cam now, I'm glad I did. I have children in my house and they use the PC that doesn't have a camera but occasionally use my MAC, which does. Thankfully it is simple to block this website. That being said, I have always been amazed at the different sexual outlets available on the internet and even more surprised that they thrive! Parents need to aware that this NOT a site for young people to hang out at. Maybe Chatroulette needs to add 'Chatroulette-G' version to attract more people and investors. Just a thought.

  2. Hi Raquel

    Great to see you here!

    That's a great point, and one I hadn't even thought of, so I'm glad you pointed it out.

    Unfortunately, I don't think it's really possible to do a "G-rated" Chatroulette, because there would really be no way to police it. At least not a proactive way to do it. They could *react* to reported bad accounts, but that wouldn't stop those accounts from being created in the first place.

    Supposedly, to prove you're an adult at some of these web sites, you need to provide credit card information. How would you "prove" that the account is a young person?

    Any attempt to make the user accountable would remove what makes Chatroulette what it is. You might as well call it something else.

    Not that this would be a bad thing, necessarily.

    Incidentally, when you say you "just looked into" Chatroulette, do you mean because of this blog? Or are we hitting on the same topic independently of each other? :)

    Thanks for stopping by!

  3. David-
    I understand what you mean about not being able to monitor the activities without keeping the anonymity of the users. Really a shame though. I gave up even going into regular chat rooms years ago because of the constant barrage of sexual innuendo and spamming. Before that, it was really fun and interesting to chat with people around the world about different topics.

    Although I read your blog regularly, we were in fact hitting on the same topic independently. Strange, huh?

  4. Hi Raquel

    I'm glad to hear that you check the blog out regularly. It gives me warm shivers when I hear something like that. :)

    I used to do chat rooms a lot back in the 90s, and I totally understand your attitude towards them. I was always surprised when women showed up in there (at least showed up *as* women, as who knows what the gender is of somebody with a generic name?). They would get pounced on immediately with lots of come-ons, innuendo, and all of that.

    And that's not even in the rooms that have "sex" in the title!

    I've found discussion forums to be a lot better for stuff like that. You can still discuss things (though obviously not in real time) with people from all over the world and there is a lot less sexual sidelights (or whatever you want to call it) involved.

    And it is interesting we hit on the same topic at the same time. :)


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