The Day the Web Turned Day-Glo

The Day the Web Turned Day-Glo

[This is also on the BBC News website at ]

Anyone with a few minutes to spare online might enjoy visiting
Chatroulette, the finest expression of punk mentality from the
emerging internet generation that I’ve yet come across. It’s not hard
to play, as there are only three rules. You have to be aged 16 or
over. You’re asked to “please stay clothed”. And you can alert the
management by clicking F2 “if you don’t like what you see”. Click ‘New
Game’ to start a game, give the service access to to your camera and
microphone and you begin a video conversation with a random stranger.

That’s it.

Chatroulette uses Adobe Flash to turn on the camera and microphone on
a visitor’s computer and register their IP address with the site. It
then connects that user with another, random IP address and opens up a
connection between the two, so you can start to chat.

Even though it’s getting millions of users, Chatroulette is very
scalable because, like the original Napster, the data doesn’t actually
go through the Chatroulette site itself.

Instead it uses Flash’s peer-to-peer streaming service to make a
direct link between the two computers and only has to keep track of
the IP addresses and “next” calls.

It is also causing an enormous fuss, largely because it is unmediated,
requires no registration or verification and is open to every
exhibitionist, deviant and random stranger online.

My son reckons he is getting a ratio of 14 naked men to one worthwhile
conversation, which sounds about right for a service that is intended
to do for video chat what Twitter has done for communication in 140
characters or less, and show us the real potential of the unfettered
connectivity that the internet makes possible.

Of course it’s a scandal, and of course it is potentially corrupting
and dangerous, though the random nature of the connection and the lack
of any way to choose who you talk to mean that the chances of coming
across someone in the same country never mind the same city or town
are vanishingly small.

Yes, someone could use it to make contact by writing their email
address or phone number on a card or calling it out as soon as a
connection is made, but you’d have to be pretty stupid to think of
this as a reliable way to make new friends or find victims.

The point about Chatroulette is that is has no point, that it strips
away the wooden panelling from this finely modelled room we call the
internet to reveal all the workings beneath and show that in the end
it’s just a space for making connections between people.

It reminds me of the day in 1977 when I went into the sixth form
common room at Southwood Comprehensive School in Corby and my mate
Dougie Gordon played me his newly-arrived copy of God Save The Queen
and everything I thought I knew about politics, music and revolution
coalesced around the Sex Pistols into a punk sensibility that has
stayed with me ever since.

Chatroulette is a pure expression of that punk spirit, delivered
through the tools available to today’s teenagers rather than the
electric guitar and seven-inch single of my childhood, and the anger
with which it has been received by the establishment is a testament to
its disruptive potential.

The kids have arrived online – Chatroulette creator Andrey Ternovskiy
is the same age as the Mosaic browser – and they want to shape it in
their image.

I hope they pull it off, though in another echo of punk history
Ternovskiy is already being wooed by the majors to sign up and sell
out, and the temptation to turn his rebellion into money must be
intense. Rather like Jimmy, the punk-precursor hero of The Who’s
Quadrophenia, he is under pressure to conform from his parents as his
mother doesn’t like the way Chatroulette can be used.

Perhaps he will stay true to punk, like Joe Strummer of The Clash or
Siouxsie Sioux. Perhaps he’ll sell out like Johnny Rotten and we’ll
see Chatroulette used to advertise butter.

But whatever may happen to his site the impact will be felt as other
kids realise that they can pick up a keyboard and become punk
programmers, just as my generation picked up a guitar and learned
three chords. Chatroulette’s launch was the day the net turned
day-glo, and Poly Styrene and X Ray Spex would be so proud.

Posted via email from billt’s posterous

One Reply to “The Day the Web Turned Day-Glo”

  1. I said to my mate Jeremy in the playground, ‘You going to see Bowie this year?’ and he said, ‘Nah, there’s something more interesting I want to see.’ So I said, ‘What’s that?’ and he said, ‘There’s this band called the Sex Pistols.’ After school that day we went down to the Music Machine and I bought the first Stranglers’ single, Grip/London Lady. What happened that year is still playing out …

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