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Social Media Random Chat Minus The Private Parts

When Howard Stern titled his 1997 movie, "Private Parts," it was of course a double entendre that exposed the bad boy radio jock's origins while also referencing his obsession with the physical anatomy. When the video chat site Chatroulette graced (or disgraced, dependent on your point of view) our computer screens, that social network gave a whole new meaning to the psychological term "penis envy." With the recent launch of HowRandom.com, a new social media site looks to eliminate visuals from the chatting equation.



Similar to FaceJon CookJon Cookbook's initial focus back in 2004 - by narrowing its demographics to the exclusivity of college students - HowRandom was launched for those that want to chat with people from other schools anonymously. In interviewing co-founder Jon Cook today, who is also the co-founder of Veribu (which ironically includes video in its business model), he indicated that "video is not in the foreseeable future for HowRandom."

With no current monetization plan, HowRandom appears as more of a 'social experiment lab test,' than a bona fide social network. According to Cook, the site was established as "an approach to solve real world problems that people are faced with." Those problems relates Cook is the arduous task of meeting new people on college campuses where real connections can be established.

The major difference between HowRandom versus Facebook, Twitter and MySpace, according to Cook is the fact "there's no anonymity, randomness or exclusivity on any of the three." In essence, while the current playing field allows you to 'connect' with people, they really don't help users meet people to truly get to know them. Cook also points out that once you get to know someone on his site, then you can also friend them on sites, like Facebook, "to keep in touch."

In an interview that Alexia Tsotsis conducted with Cook, he noted that his hope is that his site will mirror the randomness of life and "foster real-world meetings and interactions between people that might otherwise never meet."

Cook also shared with me how well the site is scaling in just 12 days from its launch on November 19. The stats as of December 1 are as follows:

  • 20,730 Pageviews
  • 6,423 Visitors
  • 5,202 users have entered a chat
  • 795 .edu email addresses have been verified, from 346 different schools
  • 29%  are returning visitors
  • 35,005 messages sent in chats
In questioning Cook about the future of the site and its goals, I was curious if he would pursue advertisers thatEduordo SaverinEduordo Saverin targeted college students, similar to Eduordo Saverin, one of Facebook's original co-founders who lined up companies like Y2M to advertise on "thefacebook.com' (the original name of Facebook). Aside from describing Saverin as a "fool" and a "lucky kid," he indicated that HowRandom does not have any advertisers, but that the latest approach to advertise on his site came from Kembrel, which is a social media buying site that features apparel for college students.

Aside from the Chatroulette reference in this post's title, "no private parts"  for HowRandom also refers to the the limited profile information that is required by the site. There's also no photo or file sharing  - just a text entry line and a chat widget. Users without an .edu address are not accepted and will not become "verified" by the site. According to a TechCrunch post, "colleges are hotbeds of virility in more ways than one, and starting off there is a good move for any social app."

So Mr. Cook and his co-founder Jason Humphries might be on the right track in excluding video from their business model, allowing students to find common bonds and levels of trust, before they reach out to them in the real world. Then again. . . there could be some surprises, when that happens!

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Ron Callari
Social Media Trends
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