Over the weekend, we finally solved one burning mystery about the future of the Internet, or at least the future of real-time online masturbation: Who founded the website ChatRoulette?
The question might seem trivial, but to me — having been both horrified and delighted by the site recently — it carried some serious interpretive weight. It had the potential to break the ChatRoulette paradox one way or the other. Is it the product of cynicism or optimism? Does its founder identify most strongly with the happy stuff or the creepy stuff? If ChatRoulette is some potential version of the Internet's future, then who is driving that future?
I had imagined that it was founded by one of two entities: either (a) a young techno-genius working alone in a spirit of fun, or (b) a shadowy consortium of identity-thieving porn moguls looking to harvest naked images of every young person in the world in order to blackmail them later into human slavery.
Turns out it was (a). According to the New York Times’ Bits blog, ChatRoulette’s founder is a 17-year-old in Moscow named Andrey Ternovskiy — and judging by his e-mail to them, he seems awesome. He loves “minimalism” and wants to keep the site from being dominated by ads. He codes everything himself, so as ChatRoulette’s user population has exploded, he’s had to recode over and over to keep up. He says amazing things like, “Bandwidth bills show sums which shock me as a teenager, but I am not very worried.” He hosts the site on servers in Frankfurt, Germany, mainly as a symbolic gesture, because it’s roughly halfway between Russia and the U.S. (He’s never been to America but would like to visit.) And, for the record, he’s not onboard with all the masturbation and mock suicides: “Some people are using the site in not very nice ways — I am really against it.”
Rationally or not, this makes me feel better about ChatRoulette — like the creepy stuff is incidental, an unavoidable byproduct of the fun, and not the site's main goal. It’ll do nicely until the next future-of-the-Internet site comes along.