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Gadgets & Gizmos

From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Chatroulette is always a gamble, but sometimes it pays off

I've been waiting for an opportunity to tell you about Chatroulette, a strange and yet oddly appealing video chat site that provides instant connections to random people all over the world. Part of the reason I've hesitated is because personally, I hadn't had a positive experience on Chatroulette. Each time I tried it, I was "nexted" (or I "nexted" others) over and over with no meaningful contact or conversation. But some people have had positive experiences there and today, I'm motivated to tell you about them.

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If you haven't heard of Chatroulette, it's a simple concept. Just go to chatroulette.com and using your webcam you can start chatting with random people all over the world, in theory anyway. Press the start button and someone will appear on your screen. If you don't like what you see, press the "next" button to connect to the next random person. And so it goes.

No account is needed and the people aren't even labeled with a handle or general location. You can use your microphone to talk or use traditional text chat. It's kind of like making a Skype call to a complete stranger. What this excellent video by Casey Neistat to see what it's like. WARNING: Some strong language is used and adult themes are discussed.

As the video above shows you, Chatroulette can be a pretty depressing yet fascinating experience. Some people are looking for certain things (translate: sex) others are too meek to actually have a conversation and most people quickly judge others based on what they see after a two-second glance. Next!

Yesterday a friend posted a video of a great Chatroulette session that made me smile, because it represents the best of what Chatroulette could be. Watch as the guy in the video sings a song to a girl named Diana and is eventually joined by friends in his eleborate Chatroulette courtship and eventual proposal to her. Great stuff!

Inspired by the positive energy from the video above, I decided to give Chatroulette another try today. For the first half hour, I was immediately nexted by dozens of people and I nexted some myself. I saw two people sleeping, four people playing guitars, a close-up of a marijuana leaf, a range of young, middle-aged and old people and unfortunately, two men holding their johnsons. The perverts are the really bad part of Chatroulette, as it is with all social media. Two kids laughed when they saw my face and typed "Santa Claus," but that was it. So I decided to do an experiment to see if I could get people to stop and talk to me. I used my famous "fork in the nose" trick.

screen_shot_2011-05-05_at_11.32.14_am.pngWith the two middle prongs of a plastic fork broken off, I put the fork on my nose making it look like those prongs were actually in my nose. With my face close to the camera I clicked the "next" button. Immediately people started stopping and laughing. Some typed messages to me, some spoke. I was making people laugh all over the world and that felt pretty cool.

Eventually I had two nice conversations following the laughter. One was a text session with a young woman in Russia who was looking forward to an upcoming U.S. visit. The second was a verbal conversation with a bright young woman from the Ukraine named Kateryna. She was very articulate and spoke English very well. We chatted for about 15 minutes about life in our respective countries, her plans to attend college and about the good side of Chatroulette. She told me she probably wouldn't have stopped to talk to me had it not been for the fork trick which made her stop and laugh. I'll probably never see her or talk to her again, but I feel better for the experience.

Chatroulette can be a wonderful way to meet random people around the world to share culture, thoughts and ideas. It's not for young kids (I was surprised to see so many on there) and you need to keep your guard up, but if you use it with care maybe you'll find a few Katerynas of your own.

Bonus video: Watch below to see how they made the Chatroulette Love Song video.

[Last modified: Saturday, May 7, 2011 7:13am]

    

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