If the video-chat site Chatroulette is any kind of sociological indicator, men love—now more than ever—flashing their naughty bits at the unsuspecting. These “look at my goods” tendencies have transformed a once-popular website into the laughing stock of the Internet, flushed its site traffic down the shitter, and branded it a pervert’s den o’ smut.
In the basement of his parent’s Moscow home in late 2009, 17-year-old Andrey Ternovskiy created Chatroulette, naming it after the disturbing “Russian roulette” scene in The Deer Hunter. According to Ternovskiy, the site’s coding was created in two days and two nights. He secured $10,000 in funding from his folks, launched Chatroulette, and soon became an entrepreneur to watch.
In February 2010, the site attracted 3.9 million visitors worldwide, up from 944,000 in January, according to comScore. What demographic dominated Chatroulette? Men—and penis.
Web analysis firm RJMetrics found that Chatroulette users were 89 percent male and 47 percent American. About 70 percent of users were young adults; 20 percent were under 20 and 10 percent were 40 or older. RJMetrics also delved into the “pervert” population (their term; not mine):
- 1 in 8 spins yield something R-rated (or worse)
- You are twice as likely to encounter a sign requesting female nudity than you are to encounter actual female nudity
- The overall pervert rate is 13 percent; only 8 percent of those are female
- The UK has the highest pervert concentration of 22 percent. The U.S., surprisingly, has the lowest, with 10 percent
The sad irony here is that with the homosexual population in the U.S. hovering somewhere around 10 percent, and Chatroulette’s overwhelmingly male-driven user base, it’s hard to imagine many of its users actually enjoy seeing someone else’s dangly-snacks.
Chatroulette was soon barraged with bad press and was forced to innovate itself out of newfound murky depths. It started with police threats against the site’s worst offenders: men exposing themselves to minors. Ternovskiy also paired up with Napster founder Shawn Fanning to bring a fresh technological perspective to the nudity conundrum. One discussed solution was inventing penis-detection software that would, at the sight of penis, immediately block the offending owner from the chat room.
Then Fanning abandoned the project. Investors became wary of Chatroulette’s filthy reputation and put away their checkbooks. Advertisers bailed or refused an initial approach.
In August 2010, the site was taken down with the promise of releasing version 2.0, which was rumored to clean up the site’s act and return it to the public’s good graces. No such luck. Version 2.0 was a huge disappointment with no significant changes.
Then came the funeral dirges. The Wall Street Journal tracked Chatroulette’s dwindling user base in its article “The Decline and Fall of Chatroulette.” Salon.com declared Chatroulette dead: “Cause of death: penises.” In its review of version 2.0, Gizmodo said: “Plenty of sex-themed adverts still persist, it crashes about once every five minutes, plus there’s nothing in the way of new options to censor things. It’s still the same wild, very sick world we’ve come to know and never go near.”
Chalk it up to yet another dying meme, which, in our Internet culture and our free-for-all Adderall orgy, have the lifespan of a couple masturbation sessions. But Chatroulette’s unfortunate association with indecent exposure not only crushes its once promising potential; it also speaks volumes about how modern men behave.
Have we become sex-driven drooling beasts who can’t resist broadcasting our pride (or shame)? Or, given the stats, should we start distrusting our offspring’s self-control in front of the webcam and implement stricter Internet monitoring rules? Or is this just the new norm; a strange evolution of our online presence; the birth of a subculture; a phenomenon unworthy of your grandpa’s hand-me-down Biblical chiding?
Whatever perspective you take on Chatroulette and its horndog subtext, the site can be deemed dying, if not altogether deceased. It’s a shame, too, because Ternovskiy’s original idea was just that: original; and it could’ve altered our digital social interactions, rather than distorting the ratio of how long we can keep our flies zipped.