I believe you have already heard of Chatroulette, the new video chat platform that has attracted the attention of millions. In February there were 30 million unique visitors to the site. That’s 1 million new users each day. The site made quite a buzz on the news media, blogs, and Twitter. Comscore reports 1 million U.S. visitors in February with a predominance of 18- to 24-year-old males.
The platform looks premature (it might be part of its charm) as it comes with one feature only: the next button. (By clicking it you are skipping from one user to another.) The next feature is vital as it gives the user a sense of control. I would even consider naming the hype around its users the “Next” Generation.
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What a powerful (yet dangerous) tool that can be for people who seek to experience the control they lack in their personal life. The Next Effect is well embedded in the whole Chatroulette random experiment.
What social needs does such a platform serves?
Psychologically speaking, these random experiences can teach us on few important needs about social interactions.
- the crave for peeking
- (online) face to face
- control (and at the same time – lack of control)
- The no commitment effect.
Combine the four together and you understand the power and the addiction potential of Chatroulette.
We are all well familiar with the above needs:
- Peeking into strangers’ lives is what brought popularity to the reality TV shows. We humans receive instant gratification from the arousing feeling that comes when we are allowed inside private personal places.
- Face to face interactions are certainly not new experiences on the Web. But they are getting to an extreme when you personally encounter strangers in their natural surroundings.
- As to control, Chatroulette can well imitate an act of meeting strangers on the street. You can choose between two acts: you can play active or passive. They are both highly addictive. You can actively approach, and they might not get interested in you. You keep on trying. At the same time, you can choose to be the one who turns down interactions. That can be satisfying don’t you think?
- The no commitment part is achieved by users’ anonymity. Chatroulette doesn’t require any identification or user subscription. You don’t have to work hard and fake your identity.
Finally, there is something new in these sets of random acquaintances that leaves you unprepared. This surprise element can never be achieved offline. While Twitter and Facebook let you follow strangers you choose to, Chatroulette adds more dimensions to these interactions. It is no longer about your friend’s whereabouts or images, nor about reporting what’s going on now. It’s live and you get a chance to play with an imaginary sense of control. While in real life you hardly talk to strangers, here you get it as a social norm.
The future of random interactions:
I can think of several ways of making these interactions more intriguing – mobile interactions on the move (following people wherever they go) would definitely be hot, as well as the option to filter the people you meet by their location, age or gender.
But forget that for now. If Chatroulette were to succeeded in controlling immoral and pornographic activity, what a great human experiment it would open!