ChatRoulette: Porn? Facebook 2.0? Both?

Last night The Gotham Gal and I had dinner with our friends John Heilemann and Diana Rhoten. As dinner was ending, the talk turned to chatroulette and what to make of it. John and I both had the exact same reaction the first time we used chatroulette;

“how did it take 15 years for the Internet to deliver this experience?”

For those that don’t know and didn’t click thru, chatroulette is a service that lets you video chat live with random strangers. It is not safe for work in many cases. And it is full of weirdness and weirdos.

But as Sam Anderson writes in the most recent NY Magazine:

ChatRoulette is, in this sense, a blast from the Internet past. It’s the anti-Facebook, pure social-media shuffle.

On a day when all the tech blogs are discussing what Google’s latest attempt at social means for Facebook, Twitter, and FriendFeed, I find myself wondering what to make of chatroulette.

My daughter in college tells me it is way more popular than Facebook on her campus right now. My daughter in high school tells me all the boys in her school are into chatroulette. And my eighth grader son tells me some of his friends are “obsessed with it”. He also told me “dad, you can’t invest in that, it’s porn.”

Just to be clear, I am not talking to anyone about investing in chatroulette, at least yet. I can’t even figure out who is behind the service. There are no leads anywhere. But my son’s assertion that chatroulette is porn doesn’t seem exactly right to me.

There certainly is a disturbing amount of perversion and sexual innuendo on chatroulette, but there is so much else. In many ways, it’s like a walk through Times Square thirty years ago. Sam Anderson describes this experience:

We ended up staying on, talking and dancing, connecting and disconnecting, for four hours. We chatted with Pratt students in Bed-Stuy, with a man inexplicably sitting on his toilet, with a kid waving a gun and a knife, and with a guy who went to my wife’s old high school in California. We saw Chinese kids in computer cafés and English kids drinking beer. We danced with a guy in his bedroom to the entirety of Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough.” We talked for half an hour with a 28-year-old tech writer from San Francisco.

That’s a pretty compelling experience to be honest. The Internet is this huge network with over a billion people worldwide on it. Chatroulette feels like a pretty cool way to take a quick trip around that network, meeting people and talking to them.

So that’s the question. Is this the adult friend finder 2.0 or Facebook 2.0? Or something else entirely. That’s what I woke up thinking about this morning so I’m sharing that question with all of you. Let me know what you think.

Fred Wilson’s full blog can be found here. Bio: I am a VC. I have been for 19 years. I help people start and build technology companies. I do it in NYC, which isn’t the easiest place to build technolo ...read more

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