Russian Chat Roulette

One of the latest viral internet sensations is ChatRoulette, which is a combination of “Hot or Not” where you are shown random images and ICQ where you could have find random users to chat with. The ChatRoulette website is so new that it barely has many of the basics in place such as a logo, user logins, search filters or any real censorship options.  A secondary issue is that much of the media coverage is ranking better than the actual website they are covering, which same issue had caused Facebook login issues last week.

According to Andrey who responded to the NYTimes questions sent to the website contact email address, he answered a number of questions such as it was just the 4 Google Adsense Link ads down the bottom shown in the image in red that now can cover all the websites expenses but can it be that simple?

Looking into some of the claims of Andrey, the servers described appear to match their german hosts NetDirekt’s products and the domain was registered by Moscow based RU. The biggest point is that maybe the NYTimes made a mistake in the translation as it seems although currently NetDirekt’s products can handle the website traffic is the figure printed real? I can see the websites rapidly increasing cost may cripple the project and cause a decrease in service quality similar to the Twitter FailWhale and the service may not be sustainable long term without more significant investment.  As based on the NY Times article the figures translated ChatRoulette was using around 7GB/second or 604TB/day or 18396TB/month…

I have estimated if they were to switch to one of the cloud based hosting providers such as Amazon EC2 the monthly costs would be around US$1.47 million dollars. I’m not sure AdSense would cover that much bandwidth costs each month, as the growth rates are extermely high and not likely to be sustained without more features and improvements to the interface, and they should consider a solution such as CloudSplit to ensure can manage their hosting costs in real-time.

The interesting stats for the website is that for a service based and started in Russia it is very successful internationally but also means that language support and local censorship laws and regulations will start to impact its service, the Alexa.com estimates traffic by country:

  1. USA (26.1%)
  2. China (17.9%)
  3. UK (5.6%)
  4. Turkey (5.3%)
  5. Italy (5.2%)
  6. France (5%)
  7. Spain (4.5%)
  8. Germany (4.2%)
  9. Brazil (4%)
  10. Holland (3%)

The audience demographics compared to the general internet populat show a larger younger segement of ages 18-24 and much lower number visitors over 35 than other websites generally attract. The gender shows a massive skew towards male visitors and our quick test showed us that many of the random connections were males, with a high portion of the 18-24 demographic. The image below shows some more detail on how Chatroulette compares, a worrying factor is the high portion of school/home based users who maybe exposed to unwanted attention or images.

Is it the Next Facebook?

It is too early to call this the next Facebook, but it could easily be expanded and developed into a very interesting Facebook application that will increase its audience and possible revenue sources but not before censorship and user registration is enforced to some level.  The click-stream shows that although Google is one of the biggest sources of visitors, Facebook benefits by attracting 15% of outbound clicks. This is likely users are sharing Facebook links to profiles, applications and fan pages. One of the key factors that gives social websites its power is the increasing time spent on site or engagement but a bad sign is that ChatRoulette’s users are spending less and less time on site as shown in the Alexa chart below.

If you want to see some of the more interesting /disturbing chat sessions that have been covered check out rosielikescats photostream, a word of warning about what the images contain. It seems to be a product that may have some potential but needs a lot more investment and development to ensure it continues to grow its user base. A likely step would be to implement a user login that can atleast start to allow users to filter their random chats requests and block abusive members. Give it a try and just a word of warning be prepared to see and hear anything and I warn you that Chat Roulette is addictive….

April Update: Chat Roulette continues to attract a lot of attention from people search out more information about it, so does that mean its still growing?

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8 comments

  1. Very nice article. I agree that the hosting is going to cripple the service unless they ramp it up. As of right now the site is not connecting and has been on and off all day. I don’t even see the adsense, it seems like one link to an online dating site. I would be interested in seeing how much they charge for that lol. How many new sites like this one you think will pop up in the next few months?

  2. Billy Courtice says:

    Interesting article, I am writing a magazine story about the impact of chat roulette. If you could send me an email so that I could ask you a few questions regarding the blog post, it would be much appreciated.

    Thanks.

  3. John says:

    I’ve developed a Facebook app similar to chatroulette, but it allows users to filter their matches my age, sex and location. I also opened up the demographic so people without webcams can participate and will have their profile picture displayed instead of a video stream. Also my app should be safer for work because if someone gets reported I can send them a warning via Facebook (note: users can’t track down eachother on Facebook).

    I’m currently using rackspace for hosting and they have been pretty good so far. You can checkout out the app at http://apps.facebook.com/chitchattur

    • John thanks for the notification and it seems that you have nailed down the privacy issue using existing platforms which seems a smart use of resources.

  4. Chuck says:

    great article! thanx for that mate!

    @John: this is an awesome idea!

    nevertheless I tried chatroulette and chathopper (more women, less freaks I think.. http://www.chathopper.com/) myself because I was so curious. it is definately an adventure :D

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