Sit down, turn on your web cam, call up the url and hit next. A stranger appears on the screen. If you like what you see, start typing; if not, hit next and get someone new. That’s Chatroulette. One of the earliest reviews of the site said of the then-new chat concept , “Of course, this means you’re going to see some X-rated stuff — this is not a site for minors, or for the squeamish.“ That’s what you’ll read in most of the Chatroulette App Reviews assembled here, but there are a couple of exceptions that shine another light on the popular chat hub.
We love to chat. That explains the explosive growth of social media apps like Kik Messenger, WhatsApp, WeChat, and others. We also love to look at pictures, as the popularity of sites like SnapChat and Instagram can attest. When we put the two together, it’s almost certain to be a hit.
Chatroulette in My Home
It was early 2010 when my son, then a senior in high school, stumbled upon Chatroulette one quiet evening. Knowing how I enjoy talking with people, he told me about it, thinking I’d find it fun. He didn’t know I’m extremely webcam shy, especially with strangers. I didn’t do it, of course, but I recall clearly how it was one of his favorite things to do for a while. On weekends, he would sit on Chatroulette for hours just waiting to see who popped up next. He met people from all over the USA and several from other countries. I asked if he met anyone that made a particular impression; he recalls one girl that he met on Chatroulette, exchanged information with so they could chat again, and they did a few times, but that was it.
You do meet odd people on Chatroulette. He and two of his friends would often be among them. They’d put on Star Trek TNG shirts (he had one of each color) and then sit together, greeting each new chat with an offer to answer any questions the new stranger might have about the Federation and its missions. That’s the sort of odd thing people used to do on Chatroulette.
Chatroulette was launched in late 2009, so he was experimenting with it shortly after its launch. It was an interesting place to be and a fun thing to do. He did not run into what is most commonly reported today. In fact, after reading the reviews as background for this article, I asked my son if he saw any of that when he used the site. He’s all grown up now so has no reason to lie, and he still says that he only saw one or two of anything like that in all the months he was playing Chatroulette.
He added that he thinks it’s a shame if what the reviews and reports say are true because he has always remembered the site and his time on it as a fond memory of his well-spent youth. You’ll have to go with me through the reviews and decide for yourself if the bad side of Chatroulette is exaggerated — for we know people report bad experiences and complaints far more than they do happy times and praise — or if the criticism is justified.
What the reviews and reports say is coming up soon, but first a little background on Chatroulette.
Chatroulette is the brainchild of Andrey Ternovsky, who came up with the idea at the tender age of 17, while still a high school student and living with his parents in Moscow, Russia. He built the site on an old computer and had 20 users at first. That number doubled every day (on word of mouth alone) to the point that Ternovsky had to adjust the code to accommodate the users.
The site was officially launched in the latter part of 2009 with about 500 users in November of that year. A month later, Chatroulette had grown to 50,000 users. With a mention on Good Morning America and articles in the New York Times and elsewhere, by March 2010 the site had an estimated 1.5 million users.
When we hear the name, Chatroulette, we probably think of the roulette wheel or a slot machine where you spin to win. That’s not where the name comes from. As the story goes, Ternovsky got his inspiration for the Chatroulette concept from the movie The Deer Hunter, which shows American soldiers as Vietnam War POWs being forced to play Russian Roulette. You probably know that in Russian Roulette, you’re spinning more to not lose than you are spinning to win. And it appears, if we rely on the tone of most reviews, that this is exactly what the Chatroulette ‘game’ is.
Reviews in the Press
We’ll start with the first press the site received in early 2010, shortly after its launch in late 2009.
A February 2010 article in the New York Times describes one reporter’s experience on. Nick Bilton writes:
In its simplest form, the site does exactly what its name says — it pulls you into a game of roulette. I used the service for the first time a few weeks ago, and I found it both enthralling and distasteful, yet I kept going back for more.
In another February 2010 article, staff at The Week writes:
It is, in short, totally inappropriate for younger users or even the remotely squeamish.
Another item from February 2010 comes from Wired’s article, 5 Reasons Why Chatroulette Is Addictive and Worth a Try, where Katie Baker writes:
In the wake of dubious Facebook privacy settings and Google Buzz, Chatroulette is a refreshing return to the days of the IRC and old-school AOL chat rooms. Of course, this means you’re going to see some X-rated stuff — this is not a site for minors, or for the squeamish.
I speak from experience: Chatroulette is fun, and definitely worth a try.
As it was originally conceived and launched, Chatroulette was indeed a return to the wild, wild web – unknown, uncensored, unsafe. You didn’t let your youngster online much back in the days of “IRC and old-school AOL” that Baker recalls favorably. You let them on the computer, encouraged them to learn how to use it, but you did not let them online unless you were right there beside them. When it comes to Chatroulette, users under the age of 18 are not allowed, period.
Reviews for the app at Google Play average 3 stars out of 5 with about 14,500 total reviews. At the extremes, there are slightly more 1-star reviews than 5-star. Users complain about too many ads and too much exposure on the part of others. Here is a sampling from across the ratings spectrum, posted as-is except where noted:
From C.B.: (1-star rating)
Dont download this! Didnt even get to see one girl on this didnt get to see anyone just got to sit amd look at a black screan with loading on it. I rate this 0/10 if i could i wouldn’t of gave it 1 star
From R. S. (5-star rating)
Useful I think this best video chat on this earth so if you want some fun with cute girls download it now and enjoy your every momen.
From S.S. (1-star rating)
Garbage Ads every 2 minutes and by the time I connected with someone it was already playing another ad
From PDP2: (5-star rating)
They showed their . . . We three kids watched a man . . . ( heavily edited, but you get the idea — kids shouldn’t be there!)
From C.H.:(1-star rating)
Scary and disgusting There are scary old men and . . . yuck ugh (again, edited)
From A.Y.: (3-star rating)
It was ok but to many naked guys or guys in general.
Online users do not talk about the ads and seem to have better luck connecting with someone, for better or worse. User reviews of Chatroulette from sitejabber.com are mixed.
A user going by the nick T N. says:
The premise is interesting – video chat with random people around the world (the whole thing is supposed to be randomized). If you see someone you don’t like, click NEXT. If you see something you like, stick around and chat it up. The reason I say “something” is because you don’t always see people, but rather parts of people . . . and that can be unsettling and vile after a while.
User Alexis P. had a more uplifting experience:
I love meeting new people and talking to them with the added benefit of knowing that you don’t have to see this person again if you don’t want to. I’ve talked to a guy over 3,000 miles away from me for about 3 hours one morning. It was fantastic. . . . The reason why it’s 3/4 (her star rating on the site) is because you really do have to sift through in order to get someone nice.
The user reviews at SiteJabber are undated, but they seem to match up with what Chatroulette players were experiencing in late 2010.
Not long after its launch, Chatroulette felt some growing pains that were at least in part related to a large number of obscene chatters coming up on screens of people who weren’t looking for that. According to our next report, the site was taken down for a while to address these issues.
A September 2010 MIT Technology Review article entitled, Chatroulette’s Pervert Detector Is Broken: Here’s How to Fix It, says, “
Chatroulette is back! Unfortunately, the intriguing, often scandalous and much-hyped video-chat site that pairs visitors with random conversation partners from anywhere in the world is also still horribly broken.
According to one correspondent who braved the re-launched site, it took four full minutes of hitting the “next” button to find a chatter who wasn’t showing his bits to the camera. Ahem.
It appears that Chatroulette soon discovered and adopted the “fix” recommended in the MIT article. A few months later, in a January 2011 article, “Skin” detecting algorithm saves kids from Chatroulette, Matthew Finnigan reports:
The technology is also able to determine between the skin on faces and on er other parts of the body using face, eye and nose detectors, before the results are fused and are classified as normal or offensive, having been trained on the dataset.
Apparently the software has worked significantly better than a commercial pornographic image detector programme called PicBlock, and is so effective that Chatroulette has started using SafeVChat on its site.
The algorithm is reported to be capturing about 60% of the obscene content. The remaining 40% is monitored with a report button that users are encouraged to click when pornography or other offensive images or behavior pop up on their screens. When an offending chatter gets three reports in five minutes, he sees this on his screen:
Did it work?
It looks like it might be working.
Believe it or not (if you’ve been online long enough, you do) there is a man who keeps a Web site where he tries to help other men with the sort of online exploits most people never want to see on Chatroulette. In a 2016 rating of The best adult webcam chat rooms, he reviews and then rates the better ones (for his purposes) as “HIGHLY RECOMMENDED” or “RECOMMENDED.”
He gives Chatroulette neither of those ratings, saying about the site in 2016:
Chatroulette was the original random video chat service, and it remains one of the main players in the field. Once a sausage fest, it now requires registration, and it has a strict no-nudity policy. This is enforced through filter technology, and a team of moderators . . . ”
If what this man writes in his review is true, it is good news for Chatroulette players. Still, no one under 18 years of age should ever play Chatroulette.
What does all this mean?
Adults longing for the early days of the wild, wild Web might scratch an itch for the old days by daring to get on Chatroulette. If you do, just be prepared to have your mind blown by whatever might pop into the chat chamber with the next spin of the button. Yes, it can be quickly skipped but it can never be unseen. I encourage our adult readers who have recently been to the site to share their own Chatroulette App Reviews in the comments sections here. Tell us if it looks like the algorithm and report button are helping to clean it up as intended. Just remember to keep it clean; this is a family-friendly site, after all.