Nothing can really prepare you for the latest online phenomenon, Chatroulette.
the social Web site, created just three months ago by a 17-year-old Russian named Andrey Ternovskiy, drops you into an unnerving world where you are connected through webcams to a random, fathomless succession of strangers from across the globe. You see them, they see you. You talk to them, they talk to you. Or not. The site, which is gaining thousands of users a day and lately some news coverage, has a faddish feel, but those who study online vagaries see a glimpse into a surreal future, a turn in the direction of the Internet.
Before you rush off to your computer to try Chatroulette, it is only fair to let you know what you’re getting into. Entering Chatroulette is akin to speed-dating tens of thousands of perfect strangers — some clothed, some not.
The home page is sparse, with two empty boxes — one labeled Stranger, the other, aptly, You. When you press the Play button, your webcam is activated and you are told that Chatroulette is “Looking for a random stranger.” Up pops a live video and you can chat with the person on the other end. Hit Next and you are confronted with a new stranger.
In its simplest form, the site does exactly what its name says — it pulls you into a game of roulette. I used the service for the first time a few weeks ago, and I found it both enthralling and distasteful, yet I kept going back for more.