Newest fad on the web is Chatroulette, which instantly matches you up webcam to webcam with strangers anywhere in the world. No registration, no authentication, no delay, no filters. It feels very Web 1.0. It's thrilling for about 20 minutes.
What interests me most about Chatroulette is its introduction of new slang. Facebook introduced the verb to "friend." Chatroulette has introduced "nexted." When two strangers meet randomly face to face either one can "next" the other, immediately, or at any time in the conversation. The NEXT button terminates the meeting and brings on the next stranger. If you are not female, or over 30, you'll most likely be nexted without remorse. In fact on old guy like me will treat any encounter that is not nexted as a victory.
The above is an excellent quick movie about the phenomenon, perhaps the most succinct introduction I've seen yet. Another very good early article about the service ran in New York magazine as The Human Shuffle (image at top from the article too). Wired.com also ran a decent summary of its appeal.
Anonymous communities are not new. (There's an informative thread on AskMetafilter about previous anonymous-meeting sites.) But as Danah Boyd, points out, the anonymity on Chatroulette is of a different type -- its a strange kind of visible anonymity. In her thoughtful piece she says:
What I like most about the site is the fact that there's only so much you can hide. This isn't a place where police officers can pretend to be teen girls. This isn't a place where you feel forced to stick around; you can move on and no one will know the difference. If someone doesn't strike your fancy, move on. And on. And on.
Most of her essay is about why she likes the site even on though she keeps getting nexted -- mostly because she is too old. Boyd is the researcher most in tune with teen's use of the web, and she heralds teenagers' inclinations to make their own teenage "places" where adults are unwelcomed. Chatroulette was written by a 17-year old teenager in Russia, and so far seems to favor young kids, particularly young females. The old are simply nexted. Facebook started out for college kids only but quickly outgrew that demographic, and is no longer a haven for kids.
In the wake of the absolute untracebility of successful connections it's not surprising that a utility like Missed Connections has popped up from folks nexted on Chatroulette. Sample plea:
you had 6 inches of wine left your name is patrick. we were the two cute girls who made you spit up your wine. you showed us your space camp souvenirs and we talked about how amazing canadian healthcare is. don't forget about us!
Most connections on Chatroulette are failures. Few end as the one above. Every new media births its own disease. Email birthed spam. Here the spam are perverts. This is an experiment changing by the day, and it remains to be seen whether the angels prevail or whether perversion overwhelms, and the whole site is nexted. But something interesting is stirring.