Video chat expanding among students, new sites like Chatroulette provide random experiences
Julia Kramer enjoys talking face-to-face with her friends in Australia.
Thanks to the growing popularity of video chat software, she can keep in touch all over the globe from the comfort of her own room.
“I like that you don’t have to guess on what (the other person’s) reaction is,” the Illinois freshman said. “It’s more personal.”
Kramer uses Skype to video chat. The feature is also included in many communication suites such as Google Chat and iChat.
These services use webcams and microphones to capture video and audio — both of which are commonly integrated into new laptop computers — and display it on the users’ screens.
Another growing implementation of webcams — Chatroulette — uses random matches between two participants to put a human face on otherwise anonymous internet interactions.
Chatroulette.com is becoming popular, although the service’s anonymity can make the site more about bizarre titillation than real communication, Jesse Morgan said.
Morgan is the director of marketing at CampusLIVE Inc., a company that launched its college-focused video chat service on March 22 at Central Michigan University.
He said the unexpected and out-there interactions Chatroulette facilitates are fun, but can easily be spoiled by pranksters or over-eager exhibitionists.
“But it is a lot of fun, meeting random people,” Morgan said.
CampusLIVE requires users to register with a .edu email address from one of 317 supported universities and it allows Facebook integration, in effect keeping the randomness while doing away with the anonymity, Morgan said.
Another site, RandomDorm, allows users to meet random people via video chat, but requires those to log in with a college e-mail address.
According to ComScore.com, the number of U.S. unique visitors on Chatroulette.com increased to 960,000 in the month of February from 109,000 in January. Those age 18-24 account for 45 percent of the entire Chatroulette audience.
Kramer enjoys the more personal nature of video chatting, but that is the exact reason she is not interested in using random video matching services.
“It’s a more intimate way of communication,” she said.
Associate professor of sociology Alan Rudy said he sees the value of video chat, but doubts it will replace other forms of communication.
“I think the beauty of cell phone calls, text messaging and status updates is that they are quick, succinct and can reach a variety of people,” Rudy said.
He said he can see its use for talking in small groups and possibly even for online classes, as well as in professional settings.
Rudy had a more pragmatic and technical concern about the popularity of services such as these.
“I’m going to be really surprised if the network speed many people using wireless have is going to be fast enough to make this worthwhile,” he said.
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