Gambling on a good time

The video-chat Web site Chatroulette connects people around the world, 'looking for a random stranger...'

It’s unlike any other social experience you have had on the Internet.

The latest web craze, Chatroulette offers a blend of socializing, interactivity, anonymity and the constant surprise of which bizarre interaction will come next.

Users find themselves plunging headfirst into the experience, with no login or virtual profile necessary, armed simply with a webcam. After agreeing to “play,” a user is randomly connected with another, from anywhere around the globe. The users can see and talk with one another, via webcam. Though not all users are looking for conversation, it's certainly available--that is, if they speak the same language. It’s a portal to the individual, crowd, party or object on the other end of the connection.

“There’s something adventurous and curious about whom you would be, and what you do, if you’re not accountable."
- Jackie Orr, SU professor and social psychologist.

“It sounded like a cool idea to be able to randomly interact with total strangers; you can get literally anybody,” said Austin Burrows, a senior chemical engineering major at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry. “I’ve encountered people wearing masks, and some pretty inappropriate things, often sexual.” He estimated that he interacted with several hundred people after using the site for more than 12 hours over two days. “It’s just fun,” he added.

The site that gets, on average, 20,000 users a night, was created by 17-year old Russian high school student, Andrey Ternovskiy, “for fun,” according to The New York Times’ Bits blog.

The layout of the site is minimalistic. Two boxes, one for each user’s camera, a box to type messages back and forth, a start button, and most important, the “Next” button. The “Next” button is the propelling force of motion through the string of interactions with users. “Next” is like changing the channel. It disconnects you from the current user, and arbitrarily selects your next connection in seconds.

The anonymity of the login-free site differs from structured, current Internet giants, such as Facebook, which ties your every action, comment and picture to your account, and real life.

“There’s something adventurous and curious about whom you would be, and what you do, if you’re not accountable,” said Jackie Orr, a professor at SU and sociologist who researches technology, science and psychiatry.

Untying the connection of the virtual world and the ordinary world can offer a refreshing escape for some.

“I think people are radically bored with everyday life,” Orr said.

This same freedom acts as a polarizing filter for users. After exploring the site, senior information management technology major Quawan Smith found the anonymity to be a negative trait.

“You can do something at the other end of the world and not be held accountable for it. I don’t approval of that at all, it’s completely unregulated so people can show anything, legal or illegal, moral or immoral,” Smith said.

The personalizing glimpse of the actual person on the other end of the connection hinders the veil of anonymity.

“People regularly go on chat rooms because no one knows who you are, but it makes it much more real that you can see them,” said Jillian Rogers, a sophomore psychology major.

Users often find themselves hurtling into conversation without normal constraints of formality.

“We usually would talk about where one another are from, no real specifics, just the name of country. I never said my name or asked theirs,” said Mike Schriever, a sophomore at SUNY-ESF.

Keeping the exchanges anonymous and impersonal may be what attracts sexual traffic to the site.

“Its international setup certainly lends itself to just another porn site providing a sense or anonymity, titillating arousal, and anything but intimacy,” said Joseph Fanelli, professor of human sexuality, in an e-mail.

“It’s the bottom of the barrel of the Internet,” Rogers said.

Without being able to distinguish who a user is, there can be no filtering of the content. It’s a change in the course of the Internet from the typically categorized, searchable data to the unbridled Wild West.

“You never know what you’re going to get,” Burrows said.

Post new comment

* Field must be completed for your comment to appear on The NewsHouse
The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.