Latest Web Craze: Chat Roulette
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. Im Michele Norris.
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
Im Melissa Block.
And its time now for All Tech Considered.
(Soundbite of music)
BLOCK: Imagine turning on your Web cam and being able to talk to anyone, anywhere in the world. You can, of course, already do that but what if you couldnt choose whom to talk to? You'd press a button and find yourself eye to eye with a stranger. Well, thats the high stakes world of Chat Roulette, a new viral phenomenon.
And to talk me through it, why we should be excited or perhaps concerned about it, is Omar Gallaga. He covers technology culture for the Austin American-Statesman and for All Tech Considered. Omar, welcome back.
Mr. OMAR GALLAGA (Reporter, Austin American-Statesman): Hi, Melissa. Thanks for having me.
BLOCK: And you gave Chat Roulette a spin over the weekend. Tell us about it. How does it work and whom did you meet?
Mr. GALLAGA: I did. Im a little rattled.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. GALLAGA: Chat Roulette is a service, a very basic Web service that combines existing technologies, Web cams connecting on the Internet, like you do on Skype. But whats interesting about it is that its completely random. You have no control over who youre talking to and it just connects you to someone that could be across the world. It could be in your neighborhood and you really dont know who it is.
So, when I got on there, I mean, you go through a lot of just people skipping past you, as theyre looking for someone maybe more attractive or someone that they want to talk to. But I did have some really interesting conversations with a group of guys in Tunisia. I spoke to a woman in Germany. My brother and I found a guy in France who he was wearing a bath robe and a very short pair of shorts. We thought, oh, no this is going to take a terrible turn. But what he did was he got up and he put an extra camera and an extra computer in front of the laptop and created this feedback loop. And he had music in the background. He was sort of deejaying for us. So, you find these really serendipitous encounters with really cool people.
But, then the dark side of it is that you see a lot of people doing very dirty things, a lot of Web feeds of advertisements, things like that. So, just like kind of the old days of the Internet where you never knew what youre going to get, its kind of really good stuff happens and then really, really, really horrible things that you never want to see again can happen.
BLOCK: Yeah, and a huge red flashing light for parents here. There are no age filters on this. I guess, they ask you if youre over is it 17? But theres no way they can screen it out.
Mr. GALLAGA: Right. And thats how it differs from a traditional chat room where there might be a moderator or you might have to log in first and provide some information, just something basic where they can find you later if something goes down. This is completely, completely unmoderated. You dont even log in. You just connect your Web cam, hit connect, and youre there.
And for parents, yeah, it can be it's something I would definitely, definitely keep my kids from because you see a lot of male genitalia, you see a lot of just bad things, very disturbing things. But on the other hand, because its random, sometimes you come across someone really interesting that just wants to talk. So, but yeah, for kids it definitely, definitely not for kids.
BLOCK: Omar, do you think that Chat Roulette tells us anything about the boundaries of the Internet? Where we're headed?
Mr. GALLAGA: Well, I think, in over the last, I guess, 15 years of Internet culture, weve sort of seen things kind of siloed(ph) and things become safer and more sanitized. I mean, Im thinking of Facebook as Im saying this, where you can actually see the identity of the person. And this kind of goes back the other way. This feels very retro to me to where there were no boundaries. There were no filters. And in that sense it kind of goes back to an earlier era where when you went to a Web page in 1996, 1997, you had no idea what you were going to get. It could be something horrible. And weve sort of moved away from that for so long with MySpace and then Facebook and even Twitter where there is some semblance of an identity. I think this is completely anonymous and in that sense is very interesting. But I think something like this taken to the Facebook level where you could put some filters or could decide do I want to touch someone from this country or that country and filter out some of the bad stuff could be really, really powerful.
It definitely feels like the first step of something kind of new and interesting. It just started in November. And theres already tens of thousands of people using it. So, obviously, theres people out there that want to talk to random people online. And when you combine it with Facebooks hundreds of millions of users, I could definitely see something like this taking off somewhere like that.
BLOCK: Okay, Omar, thanks so much.
Mr. GALLAGA: Thanks for having me. And we will be posting links to photos and information, and some kind of amateur sociology thats being done on Chat Roulette by people on the Internet, on the All Tech Considered blog at npr.org/alltech.
BLOCK: Thats Omar Gallaga who covers technology culture for the Austin American-Statesman and for All Tech Considered.