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Graphic By Allison Goodman

We have all been through different online phases: middle school to early high school was the MySpace era and freshmen year of college was defined by Facebook friends. Now, the bandwagon is beginning to lean toward Twitter, the epitome of the text-meets-web phenomenon.

But the latest innovation is Chatroulette.com (chatrt.com, for short), a site still in its early stages but growing by the second. It takes impersonality to a new level by allowing users to video chat with thousands of strangers in a manner similar to speed dating, but with a higher probability of being virtually flashed by a forty-year-old man.

Intrigued?

This is the Web site you visit if lonely, bored or even if you just need a laugh. It’s a game of chance; at any given moment you could be face to face with a prepubescent boy, a middle-aged mom or even celebrity blogger Perez Hilton. A great thing about Chatroulette is that you never know who you can come into contact with. The element of surprise is one of its strengths.

The site’s creator, Andrey Ternovskiy, was only 17 when he launched Chatroulette, which may explain the site’s relative immaturity. At first, he created the site as an online excursion for his school friends, but it has become a trailblazer right out of the teenager’s home in Moscow.

The Web page itself is pleasantly basic. Two video screens, positioned one on top of the other, are the basis for this web phenomenon. The top bar of the screen shows three buttons, “play,” “report” and “stop.” Unlike other social networking sites that may take a user some practice to get the hang of, Chatroulette is self-explanatory. You can play to chat, report if harassed and hit stop to exit this surrealistic user-meets-world domain.

As always, there is a downside: perverts and volatile chatters, for one. The conversations usually don’t get more in-depth than “hey,” “what’s up?” and “take your shirt off.” This site is about minute-to-minute connections. There is potential for long-term correspondence, but most people are seeking a “just-for-now” interaction. They laugh, wave and then swiftly click to get to the next person awaiting an unfamiliar face.

It’s a risk because time spent forging superficial friendships on Chatroulette is time wasted in “real” life where relationships are meaningful and don’t get lost in internet translation.

Also, while there is a listed “Terms of Service” statement, the program is so new that the guidelines for use are not readily employed. The rule stating “you have to be at least 16 years old to use our service” is ineffective- who’s to stop a 13 year old on their parent’s laptop from joining the roulette romp? Another rule, “Chatroulette does not tolerate broadcasting obscene, offending, pornographic material and we will have to block users who violate these rules from using our service” is just as fallacious- if someone’s going to flash you, they’re going to flash you. And if it happens fast enough, you might not have time to report the online aggressor.

While fun for now, most people may favor personal connections with friends, family and significant others, people they can come into physical contact with, not just anonymous faces that hit “next” before you can get to know them.

Nicole Adlman may be contacted at nadlman@themiamihurricane.com.

February 28, 2010http://www.themiamihurricane.com/2010/02/28/chatroulette-the-newest-internet-craze-speed-dating-gone-viral/