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Chatroulette is a free chat site launched in November 2009 by then-17-year-old Andrey Ternovsky. Chatroulette allows visitors to be randomly partnered with anyone on the site for a text, audio and/or video chat. The site has become notorious for its users who partake in cyber-sexual activities, such as masturbation while streaming video.
Chatroulette was created by Andrey Ternovskiy (shown below), then a 17-year-old high school student, in Moscow, Russia. He came up with the concept after getting bored with Skype video chats with his friends and always knowing who he would be chatting with. He sought out a site that paired video chatting users randomly, similar to Omegle, which is a text-based service. According to an interview, Ternovskiy coded the first version of the site over the course of two days and two nights, launching the site on November 16th, 2009. He chose the name “Chatroulette” after watching a group of soldiers who are forced to play Russian roulette, a potentially lethal game of chance, in the 1978 American Vietnam war film The Deer Hunter.
News Media Coverage
Nearly two weeks after its launch, the site was profiled on tech blog Make Use Of. However, the site did not reach mainstream media outlets until February 5th, 2010 when New York Magazine published an article chronicling the journalist’s experience on the site where he noticed that roughly one in ten chatters was a masturbating man. A week later, Good Morning America aired a segment on Chatroulette. The same day, the New York Times broke the identity of Andrey Ternovskiy by publishing his first interview. Throughout 2010, Chatroulette and Ternovskiy were featured on many news sites including ABC News, CNN, German magazine Spiegel, BBC News, Salon and the New Yorker.
Chatroulette uses a simple web interface and Adobe Flash to host the video streams. Once connected, a user can set up a short profile with their age and location to provide connections with information before the video loads. This can be saved with a registered account, however an account is not necessary to use the site. They can also choose to show only users with videos or all videos, including people who are just using text. There is also a Premium section where users can purchase tokens to connect only with users of a specific gender or from a selected country.
In December 2009, a subreddit for Chatroulette users was established on Reddit to both share screenshots and post missed connections to try to find people users have interacted with on the site. Additionally, a Missed Connections page specifically for Chatroulette was created, which is still active as of September 2012. In 2010, a variety of humor sites have compiled screenshots from the site including Buzzfeed, Cracked and Oddee. Several single topic Tumblr blogs have been established for screenshots including Stuff I Saw on Chatroulette, Failroulette and Chatroulette Wankers. There are more than 20,000 results for “Chatroulette” on YouTube, which include pranks, reaction videos, speed painting and music videos created by actor Steve Kardynal (shown below).
In September 2012, Catroulette.be was launched by several Belgian cat adoption agencies, showing users random videos of adoptable cats. The user can either skip the video and go to the next one or click the “adopt” button to find information on how to give the animal in the video a home. This site was featuerd on Laughing Squid, Gothamist, Mashable and the Huffington Post.
Merton & Ben Folds
In early March 2010, a piano player known as Merton uploaded a YouTube video (shown below, left) of him performing for Chatroulette users to his channel PianoChatImprov. Gawker brought attention to his videos, with Vulture suggesting two days later that Merton was really the rock pianist Ben Folds. The rumor was picked up by Entertainment Weekly and Urlesque, but Folds later dismissed it as a hearsay during an interview with Mashable on March 23rd, 2010. To show his appreciation for the pianist, Ben Folds recorded himself playing for Chatroulette users during four concerts in March 2010, performing in Merton’s style (shown below, right) in a hoodie as an ode to his lookalike.
In the first month Chatroulette was online, the site had approximately 500 visitors, growing to 50,000 that December. By March 2009, there were 1.5 million users, with 33% coming from the United States. As of September 2012, Chatroulette has a Quantcast rank of 36,632 with approximately 39,600 monthly visitors and an Alexa global rank of 3516. By the summer of 2010, the website’s traffic began to decline, with traffic decreasing further after a redesign in August 2010.
As the site’s popularity grew, many voyeurs came to embrace the anonymous, random video chat as a way to masturbate for strangers. Because of this, the site was not able to sell any display advertising. Additionally, children’s advocate groups began calling the site a “predator’s paradise.” In March 2010, Business Insider launched a contest to see any of their readers could help ease the amount of sexual activity on the site. By June, Ternovskiy began to consider implementing filter software that would automatically block video that looked like a penis. As of September 2012, users who see offending content can flag the other user for abuse but users can still be found in risky poses.
Fox News – Chatroulette Is ’Predator’s Paradise,’ Experts Say
fn34. Catroulette.be – Home
Huffington Post – Catroulette Site Is Like Chatroulette, But For Homeless Belgian Cats
Entertainment Weekly – Is the hilarious ChatRoulette piano improviser really Ben Folds? (Well, no)