Crossroads

At the intersection of technology, finance and the Pacific Rim.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

ChatRoulette

Some have called Chatroulette the hottest site since You Tube. The New York Magazine describes the experience as follows:

"The first time I entered ChatRoulette—a new website that brings you face-to-face, via webcam, with an endless stream of random strangers all over the world—I was primed for a full-on Walt Whitman experience: an ecstatic surrender to the miraculous variety and abundance of humankind. The site was only a few months old, but its population was beginning to explode in a way that suggested serious viral potential: 300 users in December had grown to 10,000 by the beginning of February. Although big media outlets had yet to cover it, smallish blogs were full of huzzahs. The blog Asylum called ChatRoulette its favorite site since YouTube; another, The Frisky, called it “the Holy Grail of all Internet fun.” Everyone seemed to agree that it was intensely addictive—one of those gloriously simple ideas that manages to harness the crazy power of the Internet in a potentially revolutionary way.

The site activates your webcam automatically; when you click “start” you’re suddenly staring at another human on your screen and they’re staring back at you, at which point you can either choose to chat (via text or voice) or just click “next,” instantly calling up someone else. The result is surreal on many levels. Early ChatRoulette users traded anecdotes on comment boards with the eerie intensity of shipwreck survivors, both excited and freaked out by what they’d seen. There was a man who wore a deer head and opened every conversation with “What up DOE!?” A guy from Sweden was reportedly speed-drawing strangers’ portraits. Someone with a guitar was improvising songs for anyone who’d give him a topic. One man popped up on people’s screens in the act of fornicating with a head of lettuce. Others dressed like ninjas, tried to persuade women to expose themselves, and played spontaneous transcontinental games of Connect Four."


Avant Garde? yes. I haven't tried it- no webcam but soon to get one. Anyway, the NY Mag writer says that it is brutal--he got switched off abruptly by the other side 18 straight times--"too old" was the usual response, where there was one--and he is 32.

So who would create this kind of site? A 17 year old from Moscow. He described his experience as follows (quoted in email to the NY Times):

I created this project for fun. Initially, I had no business goals with it. I created this project recently. I was and still am a teenager myself, that is why I had a certain feeling of what other teenagers would want to see on the Internet. I myself enjoyed talking to friends with Skype using a microphone and webcam. But we got tired of talking to each other eventually. So I decided to create a little site for me and my friends where we could connect randomly with other people.

It wasn’t so easy to create it for me, but I have been coding since 11 (thanks to my father who introduced me to the Internet early – most of my knowledge comes from it).

I didn’t advertise my site or post it anywhere, but somehow, people started to talk to each other about the site. And the word started to spread. That’s how the simultaneous user count grew from 10 to 50, then from 50 to 100 and so on. Each time the user count grew, I had to rewrite my code completely, because my software and hardware couldn’t handle it all. I never thought that handling the heavy user load would be the most difficult part of my project.

As the user base grew, bandwidth and hosting bills started to show bigger sums. I am glad that my relatives helped me with it by ‘investing’ some money in my idea.

It wasn’t very much money, so I couldn’t just buy new servers just like that, I had to optimize my code as much as possible instead. I must say that lots of people have helped and still are helping me when I have questions about coding. I am very thankful to them. I still code everything myself, though. I’d love to share work with someone else, but I am not in the USA, and most of the interested people are located far away from me, because I live in Moscow. So I still have to do all the things myself. But I am not worried.

I enjoy what I do. It is like a game for me. I discover new things and solve interesting problems.

Right now Chatroulette uses seven high-end servers all located in Frankfurt, Germany. Network throughput is 7 gigabits a second. I use various technologies to minimize bandwidth consumption. But a lot of bandwidth is still consumed. Bandwidth bills show sums which shock me as a teenager, but I am not very worried.

I am glad that people show attention to my project, and there were interesting offers I’ve received that probably might help my project to survive and improve.

Advertising on Chatroulette is kept to a minimum, because there are a lot of sites full of advertisements, which distract you from what you want to do on those sites. I also love minimalism. That’s why I have put only four links on the bottom as advertisements. And what is interesting, is that these advertisements almost cover all expenses, just those four links on the bottom!

I think it’s wonderful that I do not have to put a lot of advertisements on my site to keep it running. I am not sure why it is so. Maybe because Google AdSense (the thing I use to show the advertisements) shows links to various video chats. I don’t think this is a bad thing. I actually think it is a good thing, because only people not interested or tired of using my site click those links, to explore other services.

I am aware that Chatroulette is popular in USA. It is interesting, but I have never been to the USA myself. Yet most of my site users come from it. I would love to visit the United States.

I actually think that it would be best to found Chatroulette as a U.S.-based company. But this is just an idea.

I have always wanted Chatroulette to be an international thing. That’s why I chose Germany for hosting, because it is in the middle between Russia and U.S.A. It is also at the center of various backbone European networks. I think this is a good place for hosting a project which connects people around the world with each other.

However, I am planning to get other servers in other countries soon. With it I will add more interesting and “weird” (in a good sense) features which will make my site even more entertaining.

What is currently stopping me from adding other features which have been suggested by many and have been in my mind is that I am not even sure what Chatroulette is now.

Everyone finds his own way of using the site. Some think it is a game, others think it is a whole unknown world, others think it is a dating service.

I think it’s cool that such a simple concept can be useful for so many people. Although some people are using the site in not very nice ways – I am really against it. Others do really unbelievable things I could never think of. They make up songs about strangers and sing to them, draw them, listen to music, broadcast them their own music. Two groups of teenagers can party together. That’s just great in my opinion. I am glad that I made this project and it is a pleasure for me to work on it.




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