Chatroulette, launched in late 2009, is a site that connects two video-enabled users at random and allows either party to terminate the interaction at will. The result combines an old-fashioned Internet tech thrill—instant video chatting with a stranger in Moscow!—with the repeated, brutal rejection of speed dating.
An unofficial survey finds that the site's users are about 80 percent single dudes, with strong minority representation from teenage girls in giggly pairs. Chatroulette also has its share of skeezy masturbators, but their numbers hover around a surprisingly low 5 percent.
One group you don't see much: people old enough to remember the mid-1990s execution of this same concept—the AOL chat room. Children managed to survive that era despite a marked lack of online censorship. Here's hoping that legislators and Net nannies will sit on their hands long enough for today's youth to get bored with the latest in Internet randomness. —Katherine Mangu-Ward