OVBIAGELE: Africa to host World Cup and shake off false perceptions

I was completely thrown off by Chatroulette.

A friend recently sent me a video of Ben Folds using the social Web cam site at a concert.

He set a laptop on his piano and improv-serenaded whoever popped up on the screen, from a Viking to a sad-looking kid who stared at the crowd from his bed.

The video was funny, but I couldn’t understand why people would spend their time alone, online, looking for whoever it is you find on Chatroulette.

That sparked me to conduct my own investigation, to delve into the Chatroulette world. So I decided to sit through 100 chat partners and find out what it’s all about.

For those who don’t know, chatroulette.com is a Web site that sets up a video chat between you and a random stranger anywhere in the world.

When you get connected, you talk with that person via Web cam and IM until somebody clicks “next,” and you’re assigned another person. Pretty wild.

My plan was to sit through 100 people and note what I saw, but as it turned out, half of those 100 “nexts” I clicked were because of the same reason: male genitalia, a Chatroulette epidemic.

There are apparently a staggering number of creeps who get their kicks by exposing themselves to unsuspecting viewers. It was startling to say the least, but most of all, gross and terrifying.

If the people I saw on Chatroulette gathered in one physical place, I imagine it would be the unemployment line mixed with detention mixed with an insane asylum.

It’s chock-full of full-blown weirdos. From my limited time on the site, I saw girls dressed as gorillas, men in drag and grown men talking in baby voices.

I saw two guys head-to-toe in KISS garb, tallying on a poster board how many “worlds (they) rocked.” Peculiar, to say the least.

There were some normal people out there, however rare.

I had a short conversation with a guy from Mexico who was nuts about soccer, met a kid from New England who liked to talk about Chuck Klosterman books and talked to a high schooler who spoke exclusively in Will Ferrell quotes.

Hands down, though, the highlight of my little experiment happened when I was getting bored around the 80th or so “next,” looking forward more to the 100th and final chat partner than another dude showing me his goodies.

After a few boring exchanges, up popped a framed picture of Chris Hansen, of “Dateline NBC: To Catch a Predator” fame.

Hansen’s picture stood there, silently judging me, and in the chat box to the right read: “Why … why don’t you take a seat? Have a seat right over there.”

I’m not sure there’s an actual productive use for this thing. Marketing research, maybe?

To me, it seems like a time-waster, more like the game Web site Sporcle than anything productive.

It’s someplace to go when you’re bored or your friends have stopped listening to you, and you get the urge to be bizarre somewhere.

From its users to its creation, everything about Chatroulette is surreal.

A 17-year-old Russian kid started the site with the help of his parents’ $10,000 investment. As of last month, he still operates it from his childhood bedroom.

As many as 1.5 million users are on it at a given time, and he sustains the site with revenue from an online dating service placing ads on the site.

All things considered (and omitting the unfortunately prevalent indecent exposure), Chatroulette is pretty entertaining, but only when taken in very small doses.

After I signed off, I felt like I had to shower and go to church. The site is gaining popularity, and growing at a frenetic pace, but I doubt I’ll be going back there anytime soon.

Even though I did go to an all-boys high school, there’s only so much male “exposure” I can take.