Oh Chatroulette

What to make of it? Those who know me, know I’ve been skeptical. Right from the start, I didn’t think that this Chatroulette thing would ever turn into something more than a bell or a whistle. I was working on a blog post suggesting as much a couple of weeks after it hit the news in February, noticing that the hype was pretty far reaching. But then something happened which caused me to back off from my predictions: Silicon Valley and NYC investors got interested. When I read Fred Wilson’s post, I thought, “You know what, maybe we’ll just wait and see what happens.”

In all of my own business experience, I kinda missed the boat on the whole world of investment. Everything from angel investment to full on venture capital and IPO’s is a new topic to me. I have taken a lot of time over the last year to meet people and I’ve been learning a lot about it. One thing I quickly leaned is that investors can do a lot for a product that a product otherwise could not do on it’s own.

This of course got me thinking beyond the merits of the product of Chatroulette and more about the potential, and the man behind the site, Andrey Ternovskiy. I read several interviews during his trip to America, asked some questions, heard some rumors, followed the story, and it left me with the impression that he was a very young, conservative, impressionable young man who had not yet thought through the implications of where Chatroulette could go, or how to turn it into a business.

But that is just my outsider impression. I never met Andrey and thus have never asked him specifically about it. But because he seemed to be in a good position to attract the interest of the US tech scene, and because of the enormous wealth of brain-trust investors can bring to a business, I imagined it was possible we could see this product evolve into something.

So far, there has been no sign of any such evolution.

Nevertheless, an investor does not a success story make, and because the technology is so simple, and because the reach of any user’s effort on the platform is close to only one, by design, it seems the product will need to evolve significantly in order to establish itself as a significant business, inside of a significant market, for which Andrey himself could corner, if he or anyone else ever decides that’s what they want to do. More than money, this project appears to need a plan. Why not shoot for the stars with a big one? The biggest plans can often become realized from simply adding the smallest features.

I do believe this type of a platform, as is, will endure the times on a small scale, even if it doesn’t ever turn into a big business or something more influential. Not just because some people need a place to expose themselves but because there are other important uses that this kind of random-peer to random-peer video platform enables for strangers who want to talk.  This is essentially a type of social video blogging not much different than uploading a video of oneself for the world to see, or talking to anyone who will watch one’s live stream, for example.

The “what would you do” scenario is one you sometimes cant help but ask yourself. I put this out there as more of an interesting perspective, one I have been thinking about all year because I have been intreguided by it and I would encourage others who are intrigued by the idea of Chatroulette (minus the porn) to let Andrey know what YOU would do. I’ve read a lot of articles criticizing the site but I have not read a single article or comment suggesting any ideas for where to take it.

First of all, adding penis recognition technology and threatening users with the cops is not really where I’d be spending my time right now. This is definitely a problem but there are other more elegant ways to keep the dregs out of the rest of the non-porn content.

One of the greatest challenges of this platform, should an objective be to scale up adoption, is the dilemma of accepting that the essence of the site provides the user with a one-to-one broadcast proposition, by design, thus limiting the growth that any one individual can experience, the kind of value that otherwise gets users excited in other social platforms when broadcasting one-to-many, like on YouTube, or Ustream for example.

The site could maintain it’s core one-to-one essence while also supporting some consequential activity around a one-to-many design, in parallel. For example, what if users who received a thumbs-up, or a positive score of some sort, could rise-up, and thus based on merit within the community, work their way up to the top of the chatroulette charts where their broadcast could be watched by many. Thus, a user who entered into Chatroulette, could have the option to (A) dive in as a participant, as it is set up now, or (B) dive in as viewer only. The participants could begin with a one-to-one relationship with each other and, whereupon reaching a certain threshold, could opt to enter into the one-to-many broadcast section of the site, beside other interesting live content being viewed by a passive audience.

The site or community could also categorize the various feeds. Categories could also uphold the integrity of the one-to-one broadcast model while still providing value for more people to suit specific needs. People could get categorized into various interests and thus if you wanted to meet a random stranger to have a one-on-one conversation about a movie you saw, you could find someone under the movie>inception category, for example, to chat specifically about that interest. The site could obviously be used for dating (in the right way) in a local region which is big business, as we know from the successes of Match.com, etc.

There are lot of different directions to take this, what would YOU do?

Note above that the US is absent from the top 10 regions. Below, re: note that NY/California users typical of first adopter startups are not very active.