Niall Byrne: Online chat’s comeback?
It's been nearly 11 months since Chat-Roulette, the webcam chat site started by then 17-year-old Russian Andrey Ternovskiy, exploded into popular consciousness. The site, which connected random anonymous strangers in a private chatroom with webcams soon became over-run with voyeurs and flashers.
The desire to communicate with complete strangers has been rejuvenated, however, and the popularity of video chat sites among internet denizens has risen.
The result has been a glut of new chat-based multimedia services. Here are five of the best contenders, all with awful names:
- vChatter.com Taking the ChatRoulette concept and refining it, vChatter removes the anonymous aspect of random video chat by requiring users to log on with their Facebook accounts, thus encouraging civility. From there, you can call your Facebook friends or the site can connect you to a random stranger. Those seeking the serendipity involved with ChatRoulette may not want to know who they are talking to, however. The site claims to have two million users.
- VYou.com Billing itself as a "conversational video site", VYou is all about video personas (as opposed to showing your true personality perhaps?). Visitors to the homepage will see a fascinating panel of live video streams from some interesting people, such as a professional athlete, a minor internet celebrity, a TV writer and a guitar-wielding man looking for a challenging song request.
If you prefer to chat about something in particular, then you can browse profiles by subject. You might actually learn something through the site's encouraged Q&A format.
- Visitorscafe.com Describing itself as ChatRoulette meets eHarmony (an online dating site), VisitorsCafé narrows the field somewhat by offering its services to online communities which exist on blogs, message boards and popular sites. A good example of possible usage is guitar enthusiasts showing each other techniques.
The idea is that, with established shared interests, the one-on-one connections will become more meaningful and focused. The site is currently invitation-only.
- Textslide.com Dispensing with the video idea altogether, Textslide takes it back to the basics of a good, old-fashioned SMS. As with ChatRoulette, the connections are anonymous and the ability to move on to another stranger is a key feature. No phone numbers are displayed so personal information is kept private. You can start a conversation by sending the Textslide number a #start tag and if the interaction is not interesting, send #next tag to try again. The mobile-ready concept may just be too close to Twitter in theory to succeed, however.
- Chatfe.com Taking some of the concepts above and mixing them together, Chatfé has come up with an audio-only mobile chat which connects two unfamiliar people with each other on a phone call. Like VYou, Chatfé is based around topics, so it can be used to offer friendly advice, share information and knowledge on a hobby, issue or interest (á la VisitorsCafé). Recent homepage topics included travelling, music, philosophy, equal rights and design, so it's reasonable to assume the service lacks inappropriate behaviour. Chatfé will launch a browser-based tool in the near future.