Tim Walker: 'Chat Roulette is like some bastard child of Skype and StumbleUpon'

The Couch Surfer: One of my friends had a short play performed for her by two Spanish aspiring theatricals

Lock up your daughters and bolster their surf-control settings: the latest web fad is here and, before long, it's bound to get more responsible journalists than me writing scare stories about its potential abuses.

"Chat Roulette" (that's Chatroulette.com, people) has seen its user numbers shoot up to more than 10,000 from less than 500 at the turn of the year. The premise is utterly straightforward. Like some bastard child of Skype and StumbleUpon, Chat Roulette drops you into a face-to-face conversation, via your webcam, with one random stranger after another, at the click of a mouse.

There are existing chatrooms, notably Omegle.com, that randomly pair users from all over the world, but Chat Roulette's anonymous founders seem to be the first to have introduced video to the experience. It seems astounding that it's taken so long for someone to come up with something so simple – and the site itself looks like it was indeed designed in the dark ages of the internet. There's a box for your webcam feed, a box for the strangers' webcam feeds, a box for instant messaging, and a button that says "Next". That's pretty much it.

Most Chat Roulette exchanges last only a fleeting few seconds: the time it takes the stranger to see you, decide on the evidence of your face or your wallpaper that you're worth no more of their time, and click onto their next chat. I'm warned that approximately one in every 10 clicks will bring you up against penises in various states of tumescence. But approximately one in every 20 will produce an enriching exchange. One friend found himself in a conversation with a naval officer, who'd logged on from his base somewhere in the Middle East; another had a short play performed for her by two Spanish aspiring theatricals.

Early Chat Roulette stars supposedly included a Swedish artist who'd sketch portraits of everyone he talked to, and another man – location unknown – who could be found perpetually masturbating into a green salad. Since there are no age restrictions on the site, one friend of a friend found himself holding up a perfectly decent conversation with a 13-year-old girl. It was only when her mother walked into her bedroom that he wondered how, exactly, the poor woman would feel about finding her daughter talking to a strange man on the internet. (Well, it beats finding her talking to a semi-erect penis.) He quickly pressed "Next".

Of course, once you've persuaded someone to stick around for longer than a couple of seconds, it's a lot harder to let them go – and their rejection feels like a more considered judgement on your charisma, or lack thereof. As you see them reaching for their mouse you want to cry, "come back! COME BAAAACK!" But on Chat Roulette you can never go back. You can only go on – to the next lettuce-lover or lonely seaman. Soon you start clicking away from your new acquaintances with similar indifference.

When you know there'll be no consequences, it's also very easy to start getting personal, even mean. Just ask your average anonymous message board commenter. In this case, your conversation partner may be able to see your face (or another body part), but chances are they're not even in the same country. On my first foray into the depths of Chat Roulette, the vast majority of my exchanges were with people in jumpers looking bored, like me, their faces glowing blue in the screen's sad reflection. So, to spice things up, I resorted to snarkily complimenting one fellow user on his ridiculous facial hair. Then I asked a man in a cardigan whether he was planning to take his clothes off. The goatee guy was game. The man in the cardie clicked away.

I'm still anticipating my first Spanish performance artist or Tarot card reader – I hear there's one of them, too – to give me a truly elevating 10 minutes of talk. But I'm optimistic. Surfing the site is like waiting for your favourite music video on MTV; it's amazing how much dross you can passively endure until you get to the good stuff. Chat Roulette is no Facebook or Twitter or YouTube. It's probably just this year's "Two Girls One Cup", primed to follow the trajectory of all internet fads: a firework burst with a fast fade and a few tales of people getting burned along the way.

Until somebody hones the experience – makes it safe, organised, boring – Chat Roulette will remain a gloriously mad concoction of pornography, hipsters doing cool and/or weird stuff and lonely people looking for company. A bit like the rest of the internet.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
News
The data shows that the number of “unlawfully” large infant classes has doubled in the last 12 months alone
i100Mike Stuchbery, a teacher in Great Yarmouth, said he received abuse
Arts and Entertainment
The starship in Star Wars: The Force Awakens
filmsThe first glimpse of JJ Abrams' new film has been released online
Sport
Rio Ferdinand returns for QPR
sportRio Ferdinand returns from his three-game suspension today
News
The Speaker of the House will takes his turn as guest editor of the Today programme
arts + ents
News
people

Watch the spoof Thanksgiving segment filmed for Live!
Sport
Billy Twelvetrees will start for England against Australia tomorrow with Owen Farrell dropping to the bench
rugbyEngland need a victory against Australia today
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of The Guest Cat – expect to see it everywhere
books
Sport
Tyson Fury poses outside the Imperial War Museum in south London ahead of his fight against Dereck Chisora
boxingAll British heavyweight clash gets underway on Saturday night
News
i100 Charity collates series of videos that show acts of kindness to animals
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    Opilio Recruitment: Senior Developer

    £50k - 60k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We have an exciting Seni...

    Opilio Recruitment: Senior Front End Developer

    £50k - 70k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We have an exciting Seni...

    h2 Recruit Ltd: Senior Sales Executive - SaaS/ Cyber Security - £60,000

    £32000 - £34000 per annum + Uncapped OTE £65,000 : h2 Recruit Ltd: Looking for...

    h2 Recruit Ltd: Sales Executive - Software-as-a-Service/ SaaS - £42,000

    £28000 - £31000 per annum + Bonus + Progression: h2 Recruit Ltd: Are you looki...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

    Christmas Appeal

    Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
    Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

    Is it always right to try to prolong life?

    Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

    What does it take for women to get to the top?

    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
    Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

    Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

    Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
    French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

    French chefs campaign against bullying

    A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

    Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
    Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

    Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

    Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
    Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

    Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

    Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
    Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

    Paul Scholes column

    I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
    Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game