Chatroulette; fun or creepy?

The interwebz is full of disturbing material. At times, it can appear to be a study into the darker sides of human behavior. Websites like MySpace have brought online predators into the 21st century. Other sites like rotten or lemonparty gained notoriety for their graphic content and shock value. Now we have Chatroulette, the new generation of bizarre online interaction. Be warned: this is like nothing you have ever experienced! Chatroulette was created by Andrey Tarnovskiy, a 17-year-old boy from Moscow in November of 2009. Since this time the small site has exploded into an internet phenomenon. He allegedly runs the site from his bedroom, still living with his parents. This isn’t surprising once you’ve seen the interface. It consists of a large chat box and two screens: one for your webcam and one for the webcam of a complete stranger. There are three buttons at the the top of the screen: stop (the game), report (the person you are chatting with), and next (connects you to another random stranger). The concept is simple. There are, on average, 10,000 users on Chatroulette at any given time. The site simply connects you to any one of these people at random. You are then given the chance to meet and talk to this person, or you can "next" them. The anonymity of Chatroulette is what makes it so exciting. There is no login, no form of registration, not even any way to verify your age, though the site rules state that you must be 16 to play. Where sites like Facebook and Twitter confine you to a specific corner of the web, Chatroulette feels infinitely expansive. The possibilities are limited only by the number of people online. But along with this freedom comes the possibility of abuse. The anonymity gives rise to some of the more disturbing aspects of Chatroulette. For example, while using Chatroulette, I found that about half of the people playing are naked men, engaged in various seedy activities. Fortunately, these creepers have no interest in other men and all "nexted" me almost instantly. It’s disturbing but mostly harmless, just part of the territory. Beyond that, there are just some oddballs using the service. Pictures of a full-grown man in leopard print have surfaced on the web. I met a guy from Germany who wore a bag of chips on his head and responded to any questions about said bag with the words ‘I love my bag.’ Some people just stare into their webcam until you next them. Others simply make obscene gestures or begin cussing you out as soon as you’re connected. The point is that Chatroulette can be creepy. It doesn’t have the potential of, say, MySpace for putting its users in any actual danger, but nonetheless, first time users would be wise to bring a friend. At the same time, there are plenty of people who use Chatroulette for its original purpose: to chat! During the two days I used the site, I met people from all over the world. One such person was Baruch, an old man living in Israel. (At the time of this meeting I was at Jon Kaiser’s house.) He asked Jon and I if we were students, to which we replied ‘yes.’ He then responded with ‘Ames?’ Needless to say, were got a little freaked out. After a few more exchanges he told us that a good friend of his had gone to Iowa State, and that it was the only Midwestern college town he could think of. "You two just look like a couple of country yokels to me," he said. We decided to leave it at that. One chatter was simply holding his dog up to the camera for everyone to see. Jon got his cat and we held it up to face the dog. Some laughing ensued on both sides and the animals looked confused. Next! At B-Has’ house I met a Canadian girl named Sam. She lived in Niagara Falls and had enormous blue eyes. We talked for a while until Brett’s sister Araely nexted her. Before that, Brett and I came across something truly strange. We saw a man standing about ten feet from his camera with a long pole in his hands. At first we thought he was blowing glass. Then he pulled a pizza out of an oven and held it up to the camera. Another guy took his place with some dough and began tossing it in the air for us. We realized that a pizzeria somewhere had joined Chatroulette. After a while we waved goodbye and continued the search. The next day (at Jon’s) we met a girl living in Ljubljana, Slovenia. She told us she was at the University there to study Geodesy. After a quick Wikipedia search regarding the scientific discipline that deals with the measurement and representation of the Earth in a three-dimensional time-varying space, we began to discuss her major. We talked about differences between our respective school systems and decided that her country’s was better. She told us about the exams that every senior in Slovenia must take in order to attend college for free, exams that make our finals and AP tests look like take-homes. We were talking about music when I opened up a YouTube tab to show her a song. Somehow, while copying the the address for her, I closed Chatroulette and ended the beginning of a beautiful friendship. The adventures go on and on. . . All in all, my experience with Chatroulette was a positive one. I met a lot of interesting people, learned a few things, and even the male anatomy got to be pretty funny after while. It’s one of the few internet experiences I think everyone should have. Besides, the school filter doesn’t block it. GO NUTZ!!