Chatroulette & Haul

Chatroulette is a new social networking service on which Internet surfers randomly connect to video cams of participants and click next as soon as they get bored, scared or are simply not interested in the appearances on the connected webcams. (Careful: As soon as you open the site, it connects to your webcam and your are connected to random people.) Participants are “nexted” – basically voted as unimportant or not interesting enough by his or her viewers:

The mainstream media and several social networking experts have condemned the service as a dangerous for teenagers, making it especially interesting for them, so that Chatroulette increased in users during the last few weeks – with an astonishing 50% of the users located coming from the US.

Why is Chatroulette so popular? One of the reasons might be the immediacy of online and almost face-to-face interactions without any barriers or previous alerts or asynchronous calls, no decision-making involved whether to chat, talk or start a video: You open the website and your living room is immediately broadcasted to the world. Moreover, the thrill for some of the participants might be the connection to strangers in this “anything goes” environment. People don’t have the barriers of going through a walled garden friending process, through which connections have to be confirmed or where there might be ramifications for defriending once accepted contacts. The new verb is “nexting” someone if they are not what you want to see or are boring. A constant choice and almost unlimited choices of entertainment with every new “next” click. Jon Stewart tested Chatroulette on his show running into other newscasters – and of course making fun of them.

Chatroulette can potentially be used to place free advertising, similarly to “Haul” – a viral trend on the web where amateur teen bloggers are showing off their mall purchases, as reported on ABC. Apparently more than 100,000 videos on YouTube with millions of hours of free advertising for manufacturer. Some of the teenage bloggers even became official YouTube partners and are being paid for their videos and sponsored by manufacturers.


About Ines Mergel

I am Full Professor of Public Administration at the Department of Politics and Public Administration at University of Konstanz, Germany. Previously, I served as Assistant and then Associate Professor (with tenure) at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University, NY. In my research, I focus on informal social networks in the public sector and the adoption and diffusion of digital service innovations in government organizations. I teach classes on social media management, digital government, public management, and social network analysis.

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