This article originally appeared on VICE Netherlands
Chatroulette, the chat website that hooks up random people around the world via their webcams, was started in 2009 and enjoyed its glory days in 2010. Around that time, it boasted millions of registered users, more than half a million unique visitors a day and around 35 thousand users online at any given moment. New York Magazine wondered if Chatroulette was "the future of the internet", and website The Frisky called it "the Holy Grail of all internet fun".
And indeed, getting a girl at a house party to ask some guy on the other side of the world to show his genitals, and subsequently have all your friends jump into the frame to yell 'Surprise!' was pretty fun – but it also got old pretty quickly. It only took a couple of years for people to stop talking about the 'future of the internet' altogether.
If you ask me, Chatroulette was one of the shortest-lived internet crazes of the last decade. However, the 921 people that are online as I write this might feel differently – so I decided to ask them why in the world they're still on Chatroulette in 2016.
On Chatroulette, you can replace the partner you've been matched to with one push of the button. Predictably, the recurring theme of my quest for answers was that I kept being skipped by half-naked men, who were probably looking for women. Women are actually hard to find on Chatroulette so presumably these men are constantly skipping each other, only to run into each other again about an hour later. And skip each other again.
For some reason, the guy above didn't immediately skip me but instead started drawing a phallus on the screen with "9 inch" written next to it before he'd even said hello. He said the reason that he was on Chatroulette was that he'd been blocked from a similar website for showing his penis, so now he just stuck to drawing it on screen. He also claimed he was "looking for pussy" and since I didn't really have one on hand, this was another conversation that ended abruptly.
The second person that didn't immediately skip me was Nabila from France. "U suck like 'journalist'," she said during our chat. "Love those quotation marks around the word journalist," I thought. I do often feel more like a 'journalist' than a journalist – so maybe Nabila was my soulmate?
Nabila is actually an unemployed pharmacy assistant and too broke to travel, so she turned to Chatroulette for company and conversation. We played a game of noughts and crosses with the drawing app but that's as far as our friendship went.
A little while later, I ended up in a Moroccan living room. A woman was walking back and forth between the kitchen and living room, carrying some pots and pans. After about five minutes of this, the man in the background sat down in front of the webcam to talk to me. He said he has been on Chatroulette daily for the past six years and that he finds it "useless".
All over the world, there are people trying to develop robotic dogs that can walk on their hind legs; or applying to become a contestant on The Bachelor; or tweezing their chin hairs – my point is, there are a lot of activities that can be deemed 'useless' in this life. But logging onto Chatroulette every day for six years – that's in an entirely different league.
This Lebanese guy said he uses Chatroulette "to meet different cultures" and "report people who masturbate". He wants to rid Chatroulette of public nudity, and calls himself "an idealist".
"People here have a rotten mind," he said. "I don't show my dick to everyone. I prefer doing that on Skype."
Throughout my day on Chatroulette, I met a number of people saying they were on there because they wanted to make friends – like this man from Iraq. What struck me the most during our chat was that he said he didn't have a lot of friends – and when I asked him why not, he said goodbye and left.
How can a man, who is so friendly that he makes the effort to say goodbye before he exits a private chatroom with a complete stranger, not have any friends? What kind of pain was he trying to hide by leaving so hastily?
The fact that everyone kept skipping me began to get me a little down, so I called in my colleague Lisa – who is in possession of a vagina – to help. Before long, she was chatting with a naked guy who was looking for casual sex.
He said he has never actually managed to get any on Chatroulette, but that that doesn't bother him. When I accidentally walked through the frame, he exited the chat. Lisa also left because she "really needed to get some lunch".
After I spent another 10 minutes being skipped in a loop by half-naked male bodies and billowing crotches in sweatpants, I got blocked. I'd been reported so often by my fellow Chatroulette users who apparently found my behaviour inappropriate, that I wasn't allowed to come back for 24 hours.
Turns out, it is bad form to ask people on Chatroulette why they do what they do, and you're better off just keeping your mouth shut. Or pitch your own tent in a pair of sweats and lie down in front of the webcam.