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Chatroulette: speed-dating the world!

By Paul O'Reilly

It's a classic tale of the Internet. It started out as an experiment by a bored Russian teen, and it quickly spread among the global youth culture through dorm rooms and chat rooms. Now, it's about to explode into the mainstream, once again redefining what's possible in web-based communication.

It's called Chatroulette, and if you have a webcam and kids in the house, you are likely to come face-to-face with it very soon.

Created just three months ago by 17-year-old Andrey Ternovskiy, Chatroulette drops you right into the living room of a succession of total strangers from around the world using nothing more than your computer's webcam and microphone. You can see them and, yes, they can see you – live, unfiltered and unannounced.

Chatroulette's home page – in fact its only page – is a model of simplicity, just two empty boxes – one labeled "Partner", the other labeled "You". When you press the Play button above the top screen, your webcam is activated and you see yourself in the You box. At the same time, Chatroulette randomly connects you, Skype-like, to a complete stranger.

If you like the look of the person in the other box – and they like the look of you – you can stay and chat. If you don't like the look of the person, or if you don't like the way the conversation is going, you just hit Stop to terminate the link. If you then hit Next, Chatroulette will immediately find you another partner, again from anywhere in the world and completely at random.

If it sounds simple, that's because it is. The complications arise when you actually try it! Although a quick run through 20 partners on a Tuesday afternoon didn't reveal anything too strange, there are countless stories of naked or scantily clad men and women, people dressed in bizarre outfits and just, well, weirdness! (Check out some of the Chatroulette screenshots captured by BuzzFeed.)

Remember, there are no registration requirements – no names, no e-mails, not even a country of origin. You are just thrown into a video hook-up with a total stranger. Unless you stop for introductions, you have no idea who it is that you're looking at, and neither does your partner.

The New York Times described Chatroulette as "akin to speed-dating tens of thousands of perfect strangers – some clothed, some not". Others have variously described the site as "enthralling" or "disturbing". Some have even welcomed Chatroulette as a return of the "good old days", when you were completely anonymous, chat was unfiltered, and you never knew what you were going to come across as you randomly surfed the web.

For parents with young children, Chatroulette is obviously a minefield. Even though the site states you have to be at least 16-years-old to use the service, there is no requirement to enter a birth date and policing live, real-time video is impossible. If you have blocking software, it might be a good idea to quickly add Chatroulette to your list of banned sites.

That's not to say that Chatroulette doesn't have a future. If you're an adult, it's one of those sites that you almost have to try once. Just be prepared for anything!

Comment by Cammie, posted 3/3/2010, 6:29 PM:

I also wrote a post about this and watched a video, because I didn't want to EXPOSE myself to indecent material (pun intended). After looking at these screen shots, some of them are so funny, it makes me want to actually try it. Just so I can say I did. But not now, maybe in mid-morning, trying to limit the "wierdness". Or maybe I will have my own funny headshot! Thanks for keeping us up to date and providing great information. Cammie @CyberSafeFamily @MomsMaterial
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