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Friday, April 2, 2010

Taking a gamble on Chatroulette

Contrary to popular belief, Chatroulette is not a fancy French word. Rather, Chatroulette is the latest social networking craze that randomly connects you and a stranger via Web cam. As an avid connoisseur of Internet fads, I recently decided to give Chatroulette a whirl.

The bare Web site has none of the gimics and advertising ploys that clutter Facebook pages. Instead, it’s you, an anonymous stranger, and a Web cam. When you get bored of the person you are talking to – which you inevitably will, the “next” button will bring an infinite number of anonymous strangers to your computer screen.

While fans of Chatroulette hail its power to connect people, I think Chatroulette represents escapism at its highest level. The anonymity of Chatroulette allows users to create their own avatar. While you might think you are talking to a software designer from Phoenix, you might actually be talking to an unemployed Iowan living in his parents’ basement. And, despite rules requiring clothing, exhibitionists roam the video screens freely.

Because Chatroulette does not require you to set up an account, there is no way to foster legitimate connections that could last beyond your initial five minute video chat. Approximately 40% of people will get bored and “next” you within minutes. Even a group of professional comedians from New York City struggled to keep the attention of their video partners at a “Chatroulette Live” comedy show.

While I had fun pretending I was Ashley from Seattle, I can honestly say, Chatroulette is not the answer to my generation’s fear of human connections.