Chatroulette: A tragic tech review

By Alexis Tomrell

You’re bored one night. With a friend, or alone. It’s a joke. Or not. Drunk or high. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that you’re really, really bored. So you decide to check out a website a friend told you about, or that you read about on a blog somewhere. Ok, it’s that one site where you video chat with random strangers: 

I did this last week, and if you’re considering trying it out, let me give you a piece of advice: Don’t.  

There is nothing of substance on Chatroulette. Most of its users are exhibitionists whose sole purpose is to gross you out, or they are creepy voyeurs NOT looking to chat. The other users are people like me, only on the site to satisfy their curiosity, kill time, or like Jon Stewart put it on “The Daily Show,” reporters mining for a story. 

But, fools rush in where angels fear to tread, so for those of you who are going to try it anyway, a few tips: 

The VERY first and foremost: Get ready to see a lot of penises. It’s the first thing and last thing you’ll probably see. Well, no, the first thing you’ll notice when you go to Chatroulette are the rules of the site, which state “Chatroulette does not tolerate broadcasting obscene, offending, pornographic material and we will have to block users who violate these rules from using our service.” 

This definitely doesn’t deter at least a quarter of the users from broadcasting these obscene things.

To begin chatting, you click “new game” and are paired up in a video chat with a random stranger. When you click “next” enough times, most likely within minutes, or even seconds, you’ll get paired with a guy masturbating in front of his home webcam. 

Even if you want to try and have a conversation with him, which I’m sure you wont, it’s not going to work. He’ll hit next, or you will. Maybe he wants to show off his penis to as many people as possible, or maybe he’s waiting to have a conversation with a girl or guy better looking than me. 

Some guys aren’t quite willing to show off their willies, but they’ll for sure go bare-chested. It’s also extremely disturbing that some of these guys look like they’re still in high school or middle school. 

Point in case: If you stick around long enough, you’ll see straight-up pornography. All different kinds: straight, gay, whatever. Other websites are trying to capitalize on Chatroulette’s popularity and leaving their looped clips of porn videos with URLs of their sites. I hope this isn’t the newest trend in advertising. 

The most shocking thing that happened to me was rather ingenious and terrifying, in retrospect. I “nexted” someone and saw a guy hanging by his neck from a rope tied to the ceiling. A chair was nearby, his legs were swinging … and then they slowly come to a stop. It was scary. I wasn’t sure if this was real or not. 

Was this an act or was it a dummy? Or did I just witness an actual suicide? Was this guy trying to make a statement about technology and society by giving up his life and broadcasting it on the Internet? 

There was no way I could hit next. If I “nexted” him, I’d never know if it was real or not. But if he “nexted” me, then it wasn’t real. It was sad, but this was the longest “chat” I had. After two minutes, I got “nexted.” Turns out the clip is a fake that’s been circulating.

Getting “nexted” isn’t always a relief. People constantly “nexting” you could damage your ego. It’s a very competitive “next or get nexted” environment. Most people “next” as revenge or a pre-emptive strike, without ever giving you a chance to next him or her. 

Who cares? After all, they’re not people — just pixels. 

Someone asked me to show them my penis in exchange for a peek at their boobs, by typing “dick for tits.” Safe to say, the person disabled their webcam so I couldn’t see them. When I told them I was suspicious it was a guy, he admitted it and said, “Guys have       boobs too.”

The most significant conversation I had was with a Latin-looking middle-aged man who was hitting on me in Spanish. He asked me whether I liked tequila. I answered. You know, in an attempt to try out my Spanish. Then he asked to see my penis. Next. 

More on boobs : Several people had posters with messages like “show me your boobs” or “1 boob = $1 for Haiti (or Chile).” Ah, charity. 

Others actually take a genuine interest in you. They might ask you where you’re from and what you do. If you aren’t white, occasionally people’s curiosity increases. And so does their racial insensitivity, like the guy who called me a “sand nigger.” Next.

The first thing one person said to me was, “Ahmed or Jose? Jk.” He must have forgotten I could be Indian too and call me Apu. When I told him I was an Ahmed, he said he was a Goldstein. “Ah, I guess we’re natural enemies,” I typed. I probably would have kept talking to him, but he looked like he was in middle school. 

The website also has potential for showing you lots of random and funny entertaining things, like guys in full mime gear smoking weed. 

By and large though, it’s a waste of time. Most users are just guys looking to cyber-copulate with girls or with guys more interesting than me.

I recommend trying it once for the wacky experience, or if you’re just plain bored. But if it’s profound conversation you’re seeking, don’t be fooled for a second. 

Finding anything worthwhile in Chatroulette is like looking for gold in a mud puddle. 

According to 17-year-old founder Andrey Ternovskiy the site gets close to 20,000 unique visitors a night.