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Chatroulette is an amazingly simplistic concept in today’s online world of flashy graphics and content-rich websites: connect two random strangers via their webcam. Oh, and throw in an over-sized chat room for giggles and grins.
Ironically, the appeal of the site is also it’s fatal flaw. With virtually no content control, filtering capability or user account information, the potential for inappropriate use is high. WARNING: Parents are strongly cautioned to restrict minors’ access to the site, as law enforcement officials are already sounding the alarm bells that the site could quickly deteriorate into a “predator’s paradise.”
The website has been featured on Good Morning America, MSNBC’s Keith Olberman program, and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.
There are rules posted on the main page when you first visit the site. You must be at least 16 years old to use the service, and Chatroulette does not tolerate “broadcasting obscene, offending, pornographic material.”
What’s unclear is exactly what measures are in place to follow up on offending material once it is reported through the Report (F2) button located at the top of the page.
It’s also impossible to search for a specific user, since there are no account user names and people on webcam are anonymous to the broadcaster.
According to the New York Times, Chatroulette was started in November 2009 by 17-year old Andrey Ternovskiy from Moscow. The teenager manages the website service on his own by writing custom code and footing most of the bandwidth bill, with a little help from family investment money and a limited number of advertisements on the site.
The website’s seven high-end servers reside in Germany, and traffic is exploding with over 20,000 users at a given time. The service is most popular in the United States, but Ternovskiy says he hopes to see the popularity expand globally.
For each stranger we encountered, we announced who we were, what we were doing, and asked them random questions such as what they thought of Chatroulette. In some instances, we conducted extended interviews with people about current issues of the day such as politics, healthcare, the earthquake in Chile, and the gaming world.
The results were mixed. Approximately 1 in 10 webcams we sampled involved male nudity and sexual content. According to legal experts, this number is certain to increase as the popularity of the website grows. We quickly discovered early on that in order to be able to broadcast the random users on a live internet stream, we would have to put in place our own filtering system. To ensure our viewers weren’t exposed to inappropriate content, we kept the screen shot focused on the empty chat window until the random user’s video image appeared.
From a technical aspect, the site obviously is struggling to keep up with the bandwidth traffic and stability. On several occassions webcam videos would freeze. This was particularly frustrating from an interviewing standpoint if you were in the middle of an extended conversation. We did invite a few of the users to our live show so they could continue chatting there, and one gentleman from Florida used our Skype number to call in after we had some audio issues on Chatroulette.
We talked to partners from New York, New Jersey, Texas, Florida, Norway, Spain and South America.
Below is a compilation of the conversations we recorded during the show.
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Rusty Ray started an online freelance news project with live coverage of the 2008 Democratic & Republican Presidential primaries. On May 4, 2009, Rusty Ray founded Big 3 News. Over the past decade, Rusty Ray has participated in or provided news coverage of numerous political events, and has interviewed & featured an impressive roster of people, groups and causes. Rusty Ray