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A survey of what you'll find on ChatRoulette

Posted by Christopher Shea  March 2, 2010 02:48 PM

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Tried ChatRoulette yet? Me either, but the web service that randomly connects computer users to one another for video chats--the connections are, indeed, random, hence the reference to gambling--has been getting substantial press lately. So the Web Ecology Project, which strives to stay on top of Internet trends, has naturally taken a first stab at a survey of who's using it, and how.

The sample is small, looking at 201 sessions initiated by Web Ecology team members, who also conducted 30 interviews. Discussion of ChatRoulette has tended to suggest that young men would use it for exhibitionist displays (and corresponding voyeurism), possibly involving costumes or nudity. The survey did find that users were overwhelmingly men ages 18 to 24, but many users, contrary to expectations, did seem to just want to talk--and in ordinary habiliments. (The report does dryly observe that people who cut short the ChatRoulette connection and therefore couldn't be interviewed might well be the ones least interested in talking.)

The survey produced what Ethan Zuckerman, a senior researcher at Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society (and author of the blog My Heart's in Accra), "my current candidate for 'most enjoyable graph in a social science paper, 2010'":graphroulette.png
The Web Ecology Project refers to ChatRoulette as a "probabalistic online community."

(About those instant-disconnecters. Zuckerman writes: "Someday, we'll see a methodology section in a paper that debates the merits of logging onto a system while naked to get a more representative sample ...")

Hat tip: Henry Farrell
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