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Talking to Strangers From All Over The World

by Elena on February 23, 2010

Too scared to try the Chatroulette site on my own, I enlisted the company of my cousin to test out the site that everyone was talking about last week.  We were aware of what to expect after reading our fair share of first hand accounts.  Although Nick Bilton from the New York Times is correct in his assessment:

Nothing can really prepare you for the latest online phenomenon, Chatroulette.

…not even knowing what to expect.  You can talk to lots of people, but you don’t form any sort of real connection.  Anyone who hypothesizes otherwise really misunderstands the website.  It is a place for the curious, the lonely, and mostly the mischievous, like us, looking to stir up some trouble and a few laughs.  Will it change our world?  No… but it definitely created a surreal one.

Chat RouletteImage via: NY Mag

The Creepy
The first time you see someone expose their manhood to you, it will be traumatizing.  It doesn’t matter if someone at New York Magazine gave you fair warning.  Soon you start to appreciate the people who ask you in advance if they can show you what’s in their pants.  At least they give you the chance to say no thank you.  This naked trend makes the amount of children we saw on the site an even more disturbing trend.  These children are seeing the same images we are seeing, and at their age shouldn’t they be outside playing, not watching some loser show his goods?

The Curious
If you take out the large amount of flashers on Chatroulette, what you are left with is a large amount of curious people.  For the first 20 or so people we saw on Chatroulette, we “nexted” quickly and nervously, mostly because it is strange talking to complete strangers.  What do you say to that new face staring back at you?  It’s easier to press NEXT.  Add the anxiety that you don’t know who is going to pop up after you hit NEXT, it is safer to keep your finger on that NEXT button.  Sometimes you find yourself nexting others so they won’t get the pleasure of nexting you first.  Take that complete stranger!  I nexted you first. A lot of the time we came across people who looked like they didn’t know what they were doing, like us, and were checking the site out for the first time.

The Funny
After we turned off our computer and went out for a typical Saturday night, we returned home with some liquid courage and an extra partner in crime.  As it turns out, this website is very much like the bar we just visited, except for the fact that you are forced to make awkward conversation with your neighbor at the bar instead of avoiding eye contact and shifting your body language.  This forced interaction makes for some funny encounters like we had with our favorite French guy in Nice.  We spoke to him for about a 1/2 hour (very long for Chatroulette), connecting in the same way that tipsy strangers connect at a bar.  Suddenly you are best friends!  It was 9am in Nice and he had just gotten back from a party; it was 3 am in the States and we had just gotten back from a bar and some tacos.  He sat back in his recliner wearing a suit, red tie, and a huge, goofy smile ready to talk, in a thick French accent, to his new stranger pals on Chatroulette.

The Friendly
There are some nice people on here, believe it or not.  I was happy when we stumbled across a guy in Tunis, mostly because I was able to practice my French with him.  We danced with some people and often gave friendly waves to others who didn’t really have much to say.  Another guy, who was unsurprisingly French (they were the most open to talk to other males, without any sexual undertones) played some tunes for us on his guitar.  Since there are a lot of people who are curious about the site, not everyone is going to be a sick bastard.  It’s like talking to a penpal whom you’ve never met in person.  You have to think of generic ways to talk to someone will never meet again, although we did see some of the same people twice (despite the thousands of users).  We also came across a few parties and chugged a beer (I chugged a can of seltzer water) with a guy from somewhere in the Southern US.

Will It Change Social Media?
Some people are touting that this site is not a true social network site because you can’t form real connections.  I see their point, but I would argue that there are some interesting outcomes of interacting with people in a way that isn’t possible in real life.  Sure you could approach anonymous strangers in a park or bus, but chances are your efforts wouldn’t bode too well.  The one main difference between Chatroulette and other social networking sites is that you have no firm connection between people.  You can’t “friend” anyone or “like” or “dislike” anything.  Once you hit the next button the interaction is lost.  It is also an open haven for everything, which includes the crazy.  There is no way to police the content.

Sure it freaks me out a little that so many social connections are being made online, but that doesn’t take away the relevance to what it means to social interaction and the marketing world.

Naturally the interaction we had with a drunk guy from France will not change social media, however the option of face-to-face video chatting can.  It can open up lots of doors, (yes many of them will be problematic and creepy) as well as new ways for people and companies to interact.  Is it the type of site you check everyday like Facebook?  Most definitely not.  Will companies eventually find a way to cash in with this sort of instant interaction?  My guess is yes.

Our Conclusions About Chatroulette.

  • Women will get fewer “nexts” than men, mostly because of the large number of men on the site.
  • Most men will next other men.
  • Men from outside the USA are more likely to stop and speak to other men.  It seemed that American guys would next another guy in a matter of seconds, but the French, Chinese, and Turks were much more willing to say hello.
  • A large majority of people on the site want to expose themselves or want you to expose yourself.  Be prepared to be shocked.
  • Your surroundings tell a lot about what you are looking for.  If you are in a well lit room with others it sends a much different message than lying in bed with the lights off.
  • The Chinese love to wave hello!
  • Participating with a buddy is much easier than going on the site solo.  Also much less creepy.
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