Log on and have a chat with random strangers

April 15, 2010
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(This is the Online column, written for The Southland Times)

In the world of the web, the next big thing is always lurking on the horizon, ready to kick the butt of the last big thing as it soaks up its 15 minutes of fame.

The latest next big thing is, of course, Chatroulette. If you haven’t heard of this ingenious bit of programming, now’s the time get out from under your rock. Here’s how it works: you crank up your webcam and log on to connect with random strangers for your chatting pleasure.

Sure, there are some dodgy sights that will appear on your screen and, yes, it does appear that every second person wants to show the world their dangly bits, but apart from that it’s a whole lot of fun. Besides, if you strike someone who doesn’t appeal to you (clothed or otherwise), you can simply disconnect.

The site officially bans smutty behaviour so if someone does do something really offensive, you can report them.

The most interesting thing about Chatroulette is the young’un behind it: a 17-year-old high school kid.

It used to be that the internet was all about porn and geeks but there’s a whole new generation of users who want more from it that just oooh-ing, aaahhh-ing and a bit of binary; they are embracing social networking and online communication.

Facebook has probably won the battle for online supremacy for now but there’s always room for a great, new idea. Twitter was last year’s big buzz but, while I do use the site, I still find it a bit disjointed and voyeuristic.

This year, it’s all about Chatroulette and I reckon it’s likely to be a more sustainable buzz.

As an aside, what is it with Facebook and all those Farmville/Mafia Wars game messages? I use Facebook to communicate, I don’t care that you’ve got a crop of spuds to harvest.

Oh, and I see Google’s mapping woes are continuing, with last week’s report that Google Maps is directing Wellington pedestrians through a bus-only tunnel. Earlier in the year, we reported glitches in Alexandra and later in inner-city Invercargill. I’ve just had a quick look at the Google map of the city again, and it still seems to be a bit off. It’s not so bad if you look at the map view only, but if you change to the satellite view the confusion sets in. It looks like the street map itself doesn’t actually line up with the satellite image, so it places everything a few doors out of place.

Not quite as dangerous as sending someone through a bus-only tunnel, I suppose, but it does illustrate that sometimes technology isn’t 100 per cent reliable.

Be careful out there: watch out for buses and beware of strangers flashing their bits at you online.

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