Chatroulette: Naked Chicks, Boys Seeking Boobs and Connections Across the Globe

Online sensation Chatroulette features lots of genitals and naked breasts, but also strangers genuinely looking for connection.

Last Friday night, I found myself looking into the faces of three boys, all about 13 years old, at the top left of my computer screen. Shut away in a small, dim room somewhere in Los Angeles, they crowded together, staring expectantly at their monitor. After some meandering small talk, the boy in the middle, the typist (therefore the leader), admitted their motivation for using the new Internet (and media) sensation, Chatroulette: “We want to see boobs, but with, like…talking.”

Chances are you have at least heard of Chatroulette. Vanity Fair, the New York Times and New York Magazine have all written about the phenomenon. On the "Daily Show," Jon Stewart demonstratedhow to use it, while mocking the media’s overreaction to the porn predictably rampant on site characterized by anonymity. 

Chatroulette is the creation of 17-year-old wunderkind Andrey Ternovskiy, a high school student in Moscow. Launched last November, the site lets participants communicate with strangers around the world using their webcams. The roulette part works like this: a curious or wayward individual (you) presses the "new game" button, bringing the two screens on your left to life. The bottom video is of you, the top video is of the “stranger.” You can talk by typing on the right side of the screen. If you find your “stranger” boring, inappropriate, naked, or just don’t like the cut of his gib, you simply click the button marked “next” and move to the next available user(s). You don’t know what the next screen has in store; it's like spinning the cylinder of a revolver during a game of Russian roulette. Get it? Except, instead of a revolver it’s the Internet, and instead of rounds it’s people, or genitals, or talking sandwiches.

It should also be noted that many users have sound. Savvy tech person that I am, I discovered this with my first Chatroulette victim. I was blasting Ginuine’s “My Pony” during the first few minutes of our conversation, and when the final chorus faded out I could hear the gentle typing of my new teenage friend all the way in Chile. A couch full of drunken Germans and their intoxicated Serbian friend made the same faux pas about an hour later. Despite the fact that I repeatedly typed “I CAN HEAR YOU” and “I CAN UNDERSTAND YOU” and revealed that I once lived in Berlin, and wrote some lines auf Deutsch, they loudly discussed my feminine attributes, unaware that the sound was on. (They were, however, very displeased, even surly, when I did not identify Becks as a German beer.)

After a handful of hours spent with my new friends, I can illuminate a couple of things gleaned from my dalliance with Chatroulette. I decided to test out the game by myself, to see what the experience would be like for a youngish woman alone. While talking to a French guy as he listened to Regina Spektor, my brother crossed the room behind me. "I saw that guy!" he admonished and immediately “nexted” me, his face mid-sneer. Which leads to my first observation: most of the people I interacted with on that small screen were men.

Well, "men" may be a bit generous. They were males between the ages of 13 and 30. I spoke with one female, watched another girl dance, and there was one young woman in a group of drunks sitting around a kitchen table in Utah. Most of the guys I encountered were alone, and only about half of them lived in the U.S., about a quarter of them sprawled across a bed while staring into the computer. As the young teens from L.A. lamented, almost everyone on Chatroulette is a guy, and most of those guys only meet other guys, and a decent number of them seem to enjoy lounging about in only their underwear. Some of these guys "nexted" participants simply for belonging to their same gender. (As a video created for the Guardian showed, Chatroulette is comprised of “71% men, 15% women, 14% perverts.”)

I asked the same questions of all my Chatroulette liaisons: where did they live and why were they lurking around Chatroulette? The answer to the second question was nearly a resounding reply all across the globe: “I was curious.” For some, that curiosity was for the supernatural pairing of naked breasts and “talking,” for others it was an individual or group hunt for “weird shit.” One reticent Swede leaned his head against the wall and considered my question. “To meet who is out there,” he explained sincerely, “to find others.”

Most of the “strangers" I met asked me my age and where I was from, but only one or two of these guys asked my name, revealing a major part Chatroulette's appeal: anonymity. The site is wildly popular not simply because it is an arena to visually communicate with strangers around the world, but because one may do so anonymously. There is no login, no personal information required to join the game; hell, not even proof of age.

The New York Times writes:

Our lives used to be private by default, yet with the advent of each new social network, privacy has become increasingly difficult to preserve. Every status update or photo we share online becomes an indelible tattoo of where we’ve been and who we’ve been with." In contrast, Chatroulette is a social site that allows you to navigate incognito.

There’s no login, there’s no registration, and that’s fundamentally different from Facebook and Twitter, where your real persona is tied back to you,” said Sarita Yardi, a doctoral candidate at the Georgia Institute of Technology who studies the role of technology in teenagers’ lives.

Sure, message boards and chat rooms have long provided venues for anonymous mockery or derision, but Chatroulette allows participants to do so via video! It has created a compelling duality between obscurity and superficial observation. Welcome to the future, where cyberbullies have ready access to visual weaponry! Lechers on the creep can demand that you “Take off your pants!” or pull up their shirts and mime for you do the same, or simply type the word “BOOBS” the instant you connect, all while watching you react...ugh.

One Chicagoan described his night of Chatroulette:

I became friends with a brazilian, i toked a bowl with someone simultaneously, i took a shit and had all kinds of people watch, a dude in oakland showed me ounces of weed and wanted my number so he could mail me some, i stood on my chair and acted like i was masturbating and this dude would not stop watching, a dude in germany tried to sell me jeans for $400, one guy fell asleep in front of his computer and i yelled at him long enough for him to wake up and next me.. that was all last night.

Another woman said:

There's also a lot of girls with the camera pointed at their cleve, cutting off at the of them was bouncing up and down. I wonder how long she bounced for or what she got out of it. I also saw a crazy fat lady in ass-less black pleather chaps and a neon pink mesh top, bracing herself on a dresser, and bouncing her ass up down and over the shaft of a combat boot. I watched for several seconds trying to figure out if the boot was actually entering her body. I couldn't tell for sure. That was my experience.

The veil of anonymity, however, is not absolute. reports that a new Web site can document the location of Chatroulette users:

Some would wager that the guise of anonymity on Chatroulette helps these users feel a bit safer when baring it all. They aren’t as anonymous as they think. Chatroulette Map is a project that is grabbing the IP addresses of users, along with a screenshot, and then using Geo IP tools to pinpoint them roughly on the map. The site relies on the fact that Chatroulette connects users directly to each other (assumedly in an effort to save bandwidth) and in doing so exposes IP addresses.

Chatroulette is a mere four months old and the rudimentary site may evolve to require a login or registration. This would ensure user accountability, and with the thrill of anonymity gone, the lewd “weird shit” would likely diminish.

But Chatroulette is not all leering dudes, bouncy headless chicks and teenagers hoping for boobs. While navigating the game, I joked with people across Europe, one Canadian sang to me, and my stomach cramped from gut-wrenching laughter while chatting with a Dane. People have wasted no time using Chatroulette for their own innovations. You can find videos of kids having cyber dance parties; new blogs emerge completely Chatroulette-centric; one friend used a fresh acquaintance to help advertise his band’s show; in February, Portland band the Nurses played a 45-minute set in front of 15 computers in the first-ever Chatroulette concert.

The great thing about Chatroulette is that, in a country like the U.S., where people strain to avoid eye contact with strangers on the subway or walking down the street, the site lets them connect in the cyber abyss. Malevolent or not, people around the world are at least curious about who else “is out there,” a unifying impulse. I take a tiny source of comfort in that.