New Architectures of the Social Web: On Chatroulette

It was not until I experienced Chatroulette.com that the issues with Facebook were brought into such relief. Facebook is premised on the old concepts — what's your name, your job, who are your friends, what do you like and dislike. That is, its questions of identity are the old questions, its answers the old answers.

There is little new in Facebook; it simply accelerates what already is. It's an easy to use phone book, mailbox, and bulletin board. Of course, this acceleration changes things. But not so dramatically.

Chatroulette changes the very architectures of the social. It asks new questions and demands new answers. It is no longer: Who are you? Rather, it's: What do you want from others in this moment?

By stripping away the meta-narrative — your name, your place, pictures of your friends, your status — Chatroulette introduces the unmediated encounter. There is nothing to buy. Brands are banished and with them, the pyschographic identities we use to assess others. There is nothing to do here; just the experience right there before you on the screen. You will not hook up or meet at a party. You will engage and be engaged. Or not.

There is an incredible intimacy here as your living room is turned inside out. Suddenly, there are strangers walking through your home. And this is scary and erotic, a whiff of the dangerous.

And yet there is total anonymity. Just hit "next" or close the window and your living room is your living room once again.

Part of what makes it so scary is that it is one-to-one communication. There is no broadcasting your status; there's only engaging another individual. And yet the success of Chatroulette turns on there being a vast network, another person when you click next.

This is a new architecture of the network: a collective of individual moments.