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Chatroulette Creator Coming to America?

It seems the 17-year-old truant who created Chatroulette has applied for a visa.

The youngster, be he lucky or brilliant, has indicated he might want to transition to the American scene at some time in the near future. With all the media attention he and his service have received and the explosion of traffic – and monetization potential – on his site, his application further opens the can of worms we’ve been discussing tonight: Where’s the best place to raise your startup?

In December 2009, Chatroulette had 500 users. Today, just four months later, the site sees 1.5 million daily visitors. That statistic alone is enough to inspire investors to beat down the door of its creator, Russian high school student Andrey Ternovskiy.

But what’s much more interesting to many is the mechanics of the site itself. “It’s video 4chan. Unbeatable formula,” said Muhammad Saleem, considered by many to be an excellent authority on engineering virality. Others have called it “brilliant,” “the purest form” of the Internet and its userbase, and “a great way to kill time,” one of the most common uses of the social web.

I’ve frequently described it as a box of game pieces with no rules. Users are invited to create any kind of experience they choose given a simple set of constraints. It’s inherently viral, addictive, imaginative and essentially human.

Here’s the rub: The site is currently unfinanced and non-commercial. The site’s creator, a teenaged school kid, has been placed at the crux of nationalistic, capitalistic and technological debates by being asked to choose between Russian financing and a yellow brick road to Silicon Valley. According to one site, the Russian investors involved are seeking to “break the American hegemony in cyberspace – an ambitious plan, particularly as the United States is home to many of the market leaders in the Internet economy.

“The combined value of Google, Microsoft and Facebook amounts to roughly $500 billion, or about a third of the Russian economy’s annual output. So if Russia – which has more than 50 million Internet users and boasts one of the fastest-growing markets – hopes to catch up, then it will need to keep talents like Ternovskiy at home.”

The Russian investors who have contacted Ternovskiy also invest in Facebook and Zynga; clearly, they have an eye for social virality and profit and see a great deal of potential in Chatroulette. But Ternovskiy, a longtime hacker, dreams of founding a Silicon Valley startup of his own.

Will this young man reinforce the American idiom of Silicon Valley by relocating his seemingly overnight success to the Bay Area? Or will he prove that the startup economy is truly becoming global by accepting Russian financing and remaining in north Moscow?

A more interesting question: Can Ternovskiy sustain this wild success? Or has he simply become lucky with Chatroulette? Let us know your opinions in the comments.

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