Chatroulette, the controversial webcam-powered chat service that connects users with strangers from across the globe, has been temporarily taken down with promises of an update. A message on Chatroulette's homepage reads: "The experiment #1 is over for now. Thanks for participating -- Redesigned and updated version of the website will be launched tomorrow," meaning Monday. Does this mean the service, infamous for genital exposure, is cleaning up its act?
Founded in 2009 by 17-year-old Russian entrepreneur Andrey Ternovskiy, Chatroulette quickly gained a reputation for X-rated exhibitionism (and also had problems with privacy protections). The demographics and site behaviors charted by Web analysis firm RJMetrics were disconcerting, especially in relation to what they lovingly deemed "perverts" (users who weren't wearing clothes; were displaying explicit nudity; or committing a lewd act):
"The overall pervert rate in Chatroulette is 13 percent. This means about 1 in 8 chat sessions will have something decidedly Rated R (or NC-17) on the other end. Of the perverts that were identified, only 8 percent were female. Combined with the overall female rate, that means less than 1 percent of chats feature a female pervert."
RJMetrics also determined that Chatroulette users were 89 percent male and 47 percent American, though Americans boasted the "lowest pervert concentration" of only 10 percent.
Due to this behavior -- or the natural disintegration of an Internet meme -- Chatroulette's site traffic has been on the decline. "The service launched in November 2009, and quickly got to 500 users a day. After a month, there were 50,000 users a day. Around March, it had grown to 1.5 million users. After that, traffic began to subside," Venturebeat reported. The latest numbers show an even deeper downfall, from 1.56 million in April to 1.33 million in May.
Ternovskiy enlisted the help of social media gurus to help find a solution to the site's flasher problem. "Rumored feature changes include an algorithm that can scan a given video and detect a penis, thus blocking those users who like to show off their naughty bits again and again. Other possibilities include flagging users who are constantly skipped over," Ology.com reports.
Chatroulette also partnered with Napster founder Shawn Fanning, but the latest rumor from TechCrunch indicates that relationship may have dissolved. Fanning's supposed departure may have more to do with his newest startup, Path, which is "a tool that facilitates the creation, sharing and correlation of lists," and have nothing to do with Chatroulette's disgrace.
What does the future hold for Chatroulette? Does the site takedown mean an image overhaul, perhaps with the addition of anti-pervert software? Or has Chatroulette recognized that its fifteen minutes of fame are now finished?
This story, "Is Chatroulette Cleaning Up Its X-Rated Act?" was originally published by PCWorld.