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The Chatroulette Genie & 'F9' Are Out Of The Bottle!

If you're like me, Chatroulette could just as well be the name of a French restaurant versus the moniker of a brand new 'interactive video conferencing' ecosystem. However during this morning's normal routine of reviewing my emails and news feeds, I found more than 3 mentions of the "C" word before I had my second sip of coffee.

Having been launched just a few months ago and only totally 85,000 users (at any one point in time)  as of February 20, the Chatroulette phenomenon is already generating it's own cult lingo. The Urban Dictionary defines "F9" as the act of "going through relationships rapidly, or to be promiscuous." Still confused? So was I. "F9" derives from Chatroulette, where the F9 key brings up another chat-partner.

For example:
  Dude 1: "I was thinking of trying to start a long-term devoted relationship with Marta."
  Dude 2: "Not gonna happen. She straight F9's dudes."

"F9" underscores the guiding principle of the service being basically the game of "chat roulette." (F9ing is also synomous with the new term 'getting nexted' )Not only have these memes caught on with Chatroulett-ers, the Urban Dictionary sells products emblazoned with this 'clique-ish' meme. And note the subtlety of the "F9" on these caps - to appear intentionally as an 'inside joke.' Hey, it must provide the same cool factor us older folks got when we first used the term "tweet" all the way back in the year 2006.

Chatroulette capsChatroulette caps
So what is this new world of Chatroulette and why does it have the ear-markings of the next shiny thing?  Skype and Ustream video conferencing have been in place for video conferencing and vlogs for some time, but apart from its utilitarian functionality, most live-streaming hasn't achieved a level of critical mass adoption quite like what Chatroulette is stimulating.

While Twitter was the initial catalyst for microblogging to become part of the world's zeitgeist in less than three years, Matthew Szymczyk from AdAge believes that Chatroulette will become the "catalyst for interactive video conferencing and will accelerate adoption of video conferencing by the masses."

However if you go to their Web site, you're not really WOW'd by its capabilities, nor do you get the sense that it's looking to recruit members.

Chatroulette Web site screen shotChatroulette Web site screen shot

However, upon further research, I found some screen shots of the service in use. Note Chris Hansen's 'talking partner' has left the chat room, once he discovered that the NBC "To Catch A Predator" host was on the other line.



And this one shows a very surprised caller who ended up talking to a "cat." I guess you could call this one a "cat roulette."



Molly from Rocketboom has put together an excellent introductory tutorial vid to explain some of Chatroulettes' features and benefits. She also enters into a couple of chat rooms I am sure she wishes she hadn't.



Still confused? There's more.

According to Szymczyk, while there are no official stats accumulated yet by one of the major tech research companies, he has been able to provide us with some of his own:
  • Traffic has almost doubled in a week, from 20,000 concurrent users on February 13 to almost 40,000 on February 20 (ABC Dateline reports this number to be as high as 85,000)
  • Approximately 75% of users seem to fall into the 18-24 age group.
  • Though there is still quite a bit of obscene content, it seems to have diminished proportionally with the larger traffic numbers. Maybe more "normal" people are starting to use the service.
  • An ecosystem around Chatroulette is already developing. The first out of the gate -- software that allows you to modify your live video stream. Manycam is one such system which allows for augmented reality-like features such as applying animations to your face through facial tracking.
  • The most important observation: Clones of the service are already appearing in record time, such as Redditroulette, Tinychat and others. (while imitation is the sincerest form of flattery - it is also an indicator of the popularity of the trend).
WebEcology conducted a study on ChatRoulette published March1 that surfaced the following findings:
  • • ChatRoulette represents an example of a probabilistic community: a community shaped by a platform which mediates the encounters between its users by eliminating lasting connections between them (this is the obvious difference between ChatRoulette and other social networks).
  • • After ChatRoulette users become more acquainted with the system (ie., do not browse solely to explore), WebEcology predicts a decrease in explicit content (i.e. penises are known to often make guest appearances), an increase in the consolidation of content genres, and an increase in the formation of celebrity figures (the Jonas Brothers and Jessica Alba apparently have been spotted on the service) .
  • • This survey shows that ChatRoulette’s current community continues to consist of males age 18-24, concurrent with Alexa data.

Pertaining to Web Traffic by country, WebEcology listed the following top 15 countries currently attracting the most traffic, with of course the US in the number one spot.



March 5th UPDATE:  If you thought Comedy Central was the only place to find a Jon Stewart clip, you're wrong - Lawrence O'Donnell covered Stewart's recent hilarious report on Chatroulette for us here.  It's a great spoof on journalists and (as Jon calls them) "free floating dongs."  Guest appearances by Katie Couric, Keith Olbermann and one cruisin' Brian Williams are classic...



If you think that chatting it up and interfacing with random people you don't know is too bizarre to handle, remember when people use to say, "why would I ever want to tell thousands of strangers on Twitter that I just took my dog for walk?" Perhaps some day Chatroullette-ville will overtake the Twitterverse as the official address of the Digerati. Stay tuned... and in focus! And if you get bored or disgusted with one chatter, remember you can always "F9."

Comments
Mar 18, 2010
by Anonymous

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In my experience, Chatroulette seems to be full of men exposing themselves - something which is especially concerning considering children use the site and there's no features in place to protect them. There are other sites identical to chatroulette, such as SpintheCam.com which has features in place where you can block/report any innapropriate content - I also find it's a lot faster loading than chatroulette (I know chatroulette has had problems with its servers recently too).

Aug 28, 2010
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