Chatroulette helps Web surfers meet new people but at a cost

Matt Liasse and Matt Liasse

Just when the Internet seemed to be overpopulated with social networking Web sites, Chatroulette.com stepped in and took over.

Not only has it become popular seemingly overnight, but it has also come hand-dipped in controversy.

Unlike its predecessors, Chatroulette offers a feature that Facebook, Twitter and MySpace do not. It’s even one step above video hosting Web site YouTube.

The site works more as a chatroom, allowing the participant to have a conversation with a complete stranger. Meeting someone that lives on the other side of the globe has never been this easy.

In order to participate, a user must install a Webcam on the computer he or she is using. The Webcam then provides a portal to meeting someone completely fascinating.

But finding someone fascinating to chat with comes with the price of getting through all the losers and perverts first.

Upon starting, the computer will randomly begin a conversation with another user on the site. The “roulette” idea comes from the “Next” feature. Unlike many other forums, Chatroulette encourages the judgment of others. Within seconds, if one doesn’t like what they see, there’s a button to make them go away.

After a conversation is started, if either person doesn’t want to engage in the chat, or if the conversation takes a boring turn, either person can simply click the “Next” button, and a new conversation is randomly started.

“It just gives you a chance to meet new people and be extremely casual,” said Vivica McCrary, who has used the Web site twice. “Sometimes we would reinvent ourselves and have little stories, but most times it was just general conversation.”

Sarah Rutz said she has the most fun using the site when her favorite bands are on. Many celebrities have happened to stumble onto the site, including Paris Hilton, Ashton Kutcher and Justin Bieber, according to thefrisky.com.

“When Gayscarf and Jack of [the band] All Time Low say they’re going on Chatroulette, my friends and I get on too,” Rutz said. “We usually find them.”

Some celebrities have even commented on their experiences with Chatroulette.

“Nicole [Ritchie] and I tried Chatroulette tonight. We lasted [four] minutes. It was all 22-year-old dudes with boners,” tweeted Joel Madden, member of the band Good Charlotte.

Kelly Osbourne also tweeted that she tried using the site, saying, “… people on it are disgusting.”

Osbourne and Madden’s experiences describe the main controversy of the site, and what Huffington Post Associate Technology Editor Bianca Bosker called in an article, Chatroulette’s “penis problem.”

The article described a survey conducted, in which about 13 percent of the users said the site yielded adult content. The 17-year-old creator of the site, Andrey Ternovskiy has created a “report” function for the site now, in an attempt to decrease the amounts of offenders on the site.

“Some people want to talk and other people want to jerk off. It’s actually quite funny,” McCrary said. “[My friends and I] would do anything to turn them off and discourage their nudity. It’s very funny.”

But also when on the site, users have to become accustomed to the possibility of dealing with the other person in the chat being a perverted puppet or a man in a blonde wig reenacting Lady Gaga’s choreography.

How the site will stack up against its probable competition in the other social networking sites will only become clear with time. But because of its originality and lack of profiles and friend requests, it is sure to cause some to take a closer look.