ChatRoulette experiment: “IWTTBT”

Last week I heard about ChatRoulette, “a brand new service for one-on-one text-, webcam- and microphone-based chat with people around the world.” You can read all about it in this New York Magazine article, but here are some bullet points:

  • Most interactions between you and your randomly-selected partner last about a second. People tend to click past partners as though they’re flipping through TV channels they’re not interested in, as is evident in most of the faces in this collage accompanying the New York Magazine article:

NY Mag ChatRoulette collage

Click to enlarge

  • Most guys on there seem to think there’s a chance at getting girls to flash them — you see lots of signs asking girls to show their tits. About one in 10 partners I’ve encountered has some kind of tit-related sign up. But the reality is: You see lots and lots of guys masturbating. Although the connections are random, I seem to get a masturbating guy 10-20% of the time a new partner appears. Here’s another, sexier collage from that article:
NY Mag ChatRoulette collage

Click to enlarge

(Incidentally, I suspect that the shot of the girl’s butt is a video being looped to trick people.)

I was really intrigued by this whole thing — not as a social networking tool, but for its unintended uses. That video looped to trick people into thinking they’ve stumbled upon a beautiful, half-naked girl is amusing — it’s fun to watch people realize they’ve been had — and it even inspired me to try a similar trick. I grabbed a YouTube video of a person sitting in front of a webcam and played it as my own webcam, and watched gleefully as strangers attempted to engage the decoy in conversation. That was fun for about an hour, but I had no punchline to my prank; it was just a recording of a person, with no surprise ending.

Seeing that New York Magazine collage of the bemused ChatRoulette users reminded me of a passionless version of Phillip Toledano’s photo series of people playing video games:

Gamers by Phillip Toledano

"Gamers" by Phillip Toledano

I really wanted to try something in that vein with my ChatRoulette experiment. But instead of pranking people, I decided I would see how they’d react to something I created. So I came up with a simple, six-word phrase and coupled it with an image of a cute little animal. I even animated it by having the animal blink every few seconds. I put it up on Thursday night and, like a fisherman, waited for someone to take the bait. All I needed was a user patient enough to pause for two seconds to actually read my note.

It was thrilling watching people flip past it without consideration, wondering if anyone would actually pause to look at it, and if they would actually find it funny. I haven’t made a movie since film school 10 years ago, and I didn’t make comedies when I was there. So I haven’t really heard an audience laugh at my work. And I’ve been in graphic design for 10 years, but I’ve never hidden in the bookstore to see how someone reacts to something in a magazine that I intended to be funny.

After a few minutes, I got my first response — from someone who didn’t have their camera turned on. It was “LOL!” A minute later came another response, from another user with no camera turned on: “That’s hilarious!” They were really encouraging, but what I really wanted was to see someone react to it. A couple minutes later, I finally got a visual of a person. With sound. They read it aloud and two other voices off camera started to laugh at it. The guy gave me a thumbs up into his camera and left smiling. It was exhilarating.

Here are 92 of my favorite photos of people reacting to my first ChatRoulette experiment, “IWTTBT”:

ChatRoulette: IWTTBT

"ChatRoulette: IWTTBT" by Benjamen Purvis

About Benjamen

Benjamen Purvis is the Design Director of Runner's World magazine. | Email
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6 Responses to ChatRoulette experiment: “IWTTBT”

  1. saffron says:

    love it! but where is the cute doggy pic that everyone is smiling at?

  2. Benjamen says:

    I’m keeping the gag a secret for now.

  3. Renaldo McBee says:

    What is the six word phrase?… Oh… wait…. I got it.. “Keep me employed, buy Seattle Monthly”

  4. Benjamen says:

    If you really want to keep me employed, buy Seattle Met!

  5. mom says:

    I think it starts with “I WANT TO…” but I can’t guess the rest.

  6. Benjamen says:

    You’re 1/3 correct.

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