As it turns out, if you give people the ability to have other people look at them anonymously via the computer, some of them do very, very nasty things.
Chatroulette, released in November, 2009, by a 17-year-old Russian boy, is often described as a website for voyeurs, but really, it's a website for exhibitionists. Log into the site, and one is randomly connected -- over video, audio, and text -- with another person logged into the site.
You could think of it as an opportunity for performance art, but instead, it's turning into speed-dating for wankers. An analysis of Chatroulette traffic earlier this year by RJMetrics provided the following results:
- 89% of single people were male, 11% female. In fact, you are more likely to encounter nobody at all than a single female, and twice as likely to encounter a sign requesting female nudity than you are to encounter actual female nudity
- 1 in 8 sessions result in something R-rated or worse, such as appear to not be wearing any clothes whatsoever, are displaying explicit nudity, or appear to be committing a lewd act
- The UK is, er, head and shoulders over other countries in having its residents be more likely to fall in this category -- Turkey, France, and Germany tie for second place; the U.S. is last
It is this last category that is the problem. After explosive growth for the first few months, it was reported earlier this week that traffic to the site has, er, drooped for the first time, from 1.56 million in April to 1.33 million in May, according to ComScore.
Traditionally, pornography drives technology, but Chatroulette may be going a little too far.
"All these perverts will make it very difficult for Chatroulette to sell display advertising to big brands -- the most obvious potential source of income for the startup," predicted Business Insider in March. In fact, Business Insider sponsored a contest to "help Chatroulette solve its penis problem."
As it turns out, Chatroulette's next step is something very much like the winning solution, which was to "utilize a facial recognition scan or brief eye tracking scan before making connections."
Instead, however, the site is reportedly implementing penis-recognition software -- though what the site will do should it detect an, er, offending member is not stated.
Users can also "next" someone, which means skipping to a new user. The site is also reportedly tracking users who are frequently skipped over, though it isn't clear how the site will differentiate between people who are pervy vs. being boring or unattractive.