BU Today

Arts & Entertainment

Next: Chatroulette

Face-to-face with strangers from anywhere, anytime


Jennifer Choi (bottom left) and Samantha Ricks (bottom right) connect with a woman from Senegal using Chatroulette.

In mere minutes, Samantha Ricks and Jennifer Choi watch an American soldier in Germany eat cereal, extol the beauty of Indiana to an Austrian artist, and try to get two young men to admit that they’re lying about being French, all without moving from their cramped table in Espresso Royale on Commonwealth Avenue.

Ricks (CAS’12) and Choi (COM’10) are just two of tens of thousands of people signed onto the latest Internet phenomenon, Chatroulette, a free site started by a Russian teenager four months ago.

Here’s how it works: you sign up, log in, and press play. Your webcam is activated and a text box on the screen tells you that it’s “looking for a stranger.”

In seconds, it finds one, and a live video appears. You can start typing, or click “next” and a new stranger appears.

Chatroulette has become a buzzword around campus. While the site’s popularity is growing — a recent visit showed more than 50,000 people using it simultaneously — so too is opposition, stemming mostly from some users’ decision to broadcast in the nude. 

“I’ve just heard that it’s really freaky,” says Gillian Rich (COM’11). “I don’t want to go anywhere near it.”

Choi and Ricks say students shouldn’t let Chatroulette’s naughty reputation scare them away. “All our friends who are creeped out by it are the ones who haven’t tried it,” Choi says. “Once you try it, you see how many normal and fun people you can meet.”

Ricks has spent as much as five hours at a time on the site, attracted by the opportunity to talk to people from other countries. She says the most common Chatroulette users are men from Turkey, France, and Britain. “You get to talk about anything and meet a lot of new people,” she says. “But I think the people obsessed with it most are the ones who didn’t have many friends growing up, like me,” she adds with a laugh.

Mina Tsay, a College of Communication visiting assistant professor of communication, has researched the psychology of new media and isn’t surprised by divided public opinion over Chatroulette. “It’s a novel thing, and it’s pushing the envelope on privacy,” Tsay says. “Some people get gratification out of this intimate exposure into someone else’s private life, but others fear it’s changing privacy norms on a societal level.”

Those who find gratification through Chatroulette are sensation-seekers, she says, people who crave high levels of excitement. “They are attracted to Chatroulette because of the unpredictability,” she says. “They have no idea where the next strangers will come from or even who they really are.”

Tsay believes that the number of Chatroulette users will grow exponentially until it reaches a plateau and its popularity levels off. But she doesn’t see it dying out. “Just like Facebook came after MySpace, I think Chatroulette will definitely stick around, but will lead to newer versions of this same idea,” she predicts.

She also sees a benefit for those who aren’t comfortable in social situations. “They’re able to show their emotions and not worry about the impression they’re making,” she says. “It isn’t a substitute for real-life interactions, but sometimes it’s a good alternative.”

Although rejections in Chatroulette may not be as painful as those in the real world, they can still sting. Choi and Ricks are taken aback whenever it happens. “I can’t believe she just nexted us,” Ricks says after a conversation with a young woman from Senegal ends abruptly. “I’m a little offended.”

While Chatroulette has the power to connect people across the globe, there may be at least one rivalry too strong for it to overcome.

“I was talking to this guy from BC for a while,” Ricks says. “And he nexted me as soon as I told him I went to BU. It was so annoying.”

Jennifer Choi’s obsession with Chatroulette is just one of many topics she writes about in her blog, which can be read here.

Caroline Hailey can be reached at chailey@bu.edu.


13 Comments on Next: Chatroulette

  • Aretha on 03.22.2010 at 8:10 am

    Chatroulette is awesome!

    I tried it for the first time last week with my two best friends and it was so much fun. I can’t wait to sit down and try it again. I talked to people from all over the world and “next”-ed some rated-x material (it was night time though so there’s more than usual). I will say that its better to play with a friend and to play during the day because a lot more people are connected and there aren’t so many grossed out “next.”

  • Anonymous on 03.22.2010 at 8:19 am


    Although chatroulette has no match in user size http://camstumble.com has good potential, try it.

  • Anonymous on 03.22.2010 at 9:24 am

    fails to mention chatroulette's downside

    I really don’t know why you’d be promoting and trying to psychoanalyze a website whereby 5 out of 10 people will show you their genitals. In fact, I found less people wanting to meet people from somewhere else and instead be shocking and crude. I mean, it’s a great means to laugh your ass off, but it does not deserve the merits present in this article.

  • Anonymous on 03.22.2010 at 11:10 am

    Get off your computer Core girl

    Knowing that Samantha Ricks girl, she wrote this article during Core lecture. Get off your damn computer during class! I can only take so facebook and urban outfitters.

  • Anonymous on 03.22.2010 at 11:23 am

    re: fails to mention..

    True, but the article gives hope in the all the good from chat roulette, mainly the social aspect. And have you never heard of censors? I’m sure if this site or others are able to expand or become more sophisticated, censors will be enabled, keep in mind the site was made by a Russian teenager..

  • kayla on 03.22.2010 at 11:39 am

    check out how ben folds uses chatroulette — http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LfamTmY5REw

    love it

  • Hrmm... on 03.22.2010 at 2:40 pm

    No mention of.

    Unfortunately there is a ridiculous ratio on penis to actual social interactive opportunities. I feel this website only has potential to be yet another safe haven for pedophiles, and penis flashers.

  • Anonymous on 03.22.2010 at 3:04 pm


    Also try http://vtring.com/
    This chatroulette competitior also seems fun

  • Anonymous on 03.22.2010 at 3:10 pm

    The Competitor

    The possible chatroulette competitior has arrived, http://vtring.com/
    Check it out!

  • Anonymous on 03.22.2010 at 5:24 pm


    I just went on here after being warned by my son not to. (Parents these days…) It was disgusting from the get-go!

  • Anonymous on 03.22.2010 at 7:26 pm

    chatroulette user

    I started using chatroulette in december and couldn’t understand why so few people were online (the VAST majority being people wanting to show off their genitals (jon lajoie anyone?)) at any given point, but this article just informed me that I was one of the first users! sweet! I was wondering why it exploded.
    anyway. if you’re not into male or female nudity, then don’t go on the site. it’s going to happen. it is true about pedophiles being on there, I’m sure but it takes two. the other person has to be willing to do whatever, too

  • Anonymous on 03.23.2010 at 11:37 am


    Put down the computer, the cell phone, the blackberry, the i pod, and read a damn book!!!!!!!!

  • Anonymous on 03.23.2010 at 6:51 pm

    books are boring, I would rather read my netbook

Post Your Comment

(never shown)