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The Surreal World of Chatroulette 151

Hugh Pickens writes "The New York Times reports that Chatroulette, the social Web site created by a 17-year-old Russian named Andrey Ternovskiy, drops you into an unnerving world where you are connected through webcams to a random, fathomless succession of strangers from across the globe. The site activates your webcam automatically; when you click 'start' you're suddenly staring at another human on your screen and they're staring back at you, at which point you can either choose to chat (via text or voice) or just click 'next,' instantly calling up someone else. Entering Chatroulette is akin to speed-dating tens of thousands of perfect strangers — some clothed, some not. You see them, they see you. You talk to them, they talk to you. 'It's very strange, and not just because you are parachuting into someone else's life (and they yours), a kind of invited crasher,' writes Nick Bilton. 'It is also the eerie thrill of true randomness — who, or what, will show up next?' The Web has long allowed anonymous conversations among strangers. Text-based chat rooms are rife with deceit — people pretending they are someone else. Video makes this harder — even if you're wearing a mask. 'From my experience on the site, echoed by those I've spoken to, it seems as if 90 percent of users are genuinely looking for novel and unexpected conversation,' add Bilton. 'The rest — well, let's just say they have debauchery in mind.'"

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