Chat Roulette is a website that randomly connects users for webcam-based conversations. The site is intended as a form of entertainment that offers participants a chance to speak to strangers from around the world in a way that is casual, nonthreatening, and fun. Since its inception, however, a number of its users have broadcast offensive or pornographic images to their chat partners, leading to widespread concern in the US media over the unsuitability of the site for underage or sensitive users.
Seventeen-year-old Russian student Andrey Ternovskiy created Chat Roulette in 2009. The site gained rapid media attention in the US and Great Britain, and by early 2010 had attracted more than 1 million users. It was initially financed with an investment from Ternovskiy’s parents, but is now partially funded by advertising.
Using Chat Roulette is fairly straightforward. The site’s display consists of two video boxes and a sidebar for optional text chat. When a user enters the site, he is randomly connected to another participant. His live image, broadcast via webcam, appears in one of the video boxes, and his chat partner’s appears in the other. Once connected, the two chat partners can communicate with one another through the video image, audio, and text.
Should a Chat Roulette user decide that he is dissatisfied with his chat partner, he can simply move on to a new one by selecting the “next” option on the site display. Due to the random and anonymous nature of Chat Roulette connections, many users may feel less inclined than normal to obey customary conversational etiquette. Thus conversations often last only a few seconds before a chat partner opts to move on. At times, this quick dismissal may create feelings of rejection in certain users.
The site’s lack of regulation and user accountability has led to what some feel is irresponsible and even dangerous behavior among some of its participants. A number of users have broadcast images of a vulgar and even pornographic nature. Complaints have led the site’s administrators to enact a system in which users may report a fellow participant’s offensive behavior. Once a user has been reported three times, he is temporarily blocked from site access.
Despite these precautionary measures, Chat Roulette’s users remain largely unregulated. While the site states that users must be at least 16, it is difficult to enforce this stipulation in practice. Therefore parents of underage Internet users may wish to discuss the site with their children, or modify their computer’s settings so it is blocked.