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Chatroulette changes social equation

By Iris Chen

April 27, 2010 11:12 p.m.

Connected ““ you can now speak.

With a webcam facing him, first-year physiological science student James Chen sat down with a few friends to play Chatroulette for the first time.

Clicking through different people, Chen and his friends met both a group of first-year students from an university in Pennsylvania and a man who only spoke German.

Chatroulette, created by 17-year-old Andrey Ternovskiy from Moscow in November 2009, is a social networking website that pairs random users to chat through webcam and text.

The social medium has become a popular cultural phenomenon, based on its recent increase in users.

Some find Chatroulette an indication of technological progress and the weak development of interpersonal relationships today.

By connecting people through the internet, Chatroulette allows users to meet others from different areas of the world.

“I thought it was pretty cool how we met a guy from Germany, and we conversed through some German I learned in high school,” Chen said.

Steven Peterson, communication studies lecturer, said he does not think Chatroulette functions as a venue to start interpersonal relationships, as each conversation is merely a short-term interaction.

However, he said it can allow for the development of such relationships, although that is not the site’s primary function.

“(Chatroulette) also provides a place for users to experience novelty, random interaction, and to self-disclose ““ perhaps to the point of exhibitionism,” Peterson said.

He added that users like being surprised at what they may see, what they may encounter, or interaction that they may not have expected.

Unlike other social websites such as Facebook or MySpace, Chatroulette does not require users to provide any information prior to starting, thus maintaining their anonymity.

Since Chatroulette invites a stranger into one’s personal space, people participate with groups of friends for social support, Peterson said.

“Chatroulette is not something I would go on alone for fun,” Chen said.

Dianna Lindsey, a second-year political science student, said going on Chatroulette with friends could be funny as they can make a joke out of the people they might meet online and what they might see.

Chen and Lindsey agreed that people would go on Chatroulette out of interest or curiosity, not necessarily to make friends.

Greg Bryant, assistant professor of communication studies, also noted how the popularity of Chatroulette is an indication of improving technology in text, video and audio that in combination will allow for future social media to advance.

“As video chatting improves with technology, the more people can do within the comfort of their homes,” Bryant said.

Many said they believe more user restriction is necessary for Chatroulette to maintain its popularity when the novelty of such a website dies out.

“Once you can effectively make a website more exclusive, then I think relationships can more easily be formed,” Peterson said.

Andy Han, a first-year mathematics economics student, suggested that with more regulation, Chatroulette can be more successful.

“Unlike Facebook, which is more well-regulated, Chatroulette has no censorship,” Han said.

As of now, Chatroulette consists of two video boxes, a text box, a report button for inappropriate users, and a next button to immediately end the chat by connecting to another user.

“The next button is used very often,” Chen said.

When the partner becomes boring, the solution is simple.


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Iris Chen
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