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Chatroulette – or why “open” empowers creativity, drives success and will *always* win

By on March 26, 2010
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Chatroulette has been around for a few months but really hit the mainstream about a month ago. The concept is simple: two people with webcams are connected randomly. They can chat, be funny, show each other their naughty bits or move on quickly. And all of these things happen.

The mainstream media focuses on the sexual aspects (See the Guardian, Time Magazine, New York Times) and this tweet from Johnny Minkley sums up the initial perception of the service:

"Just looked at Chatroulette for the first time. Saw a man masturbating within 30 seconds"

BUT

Chatroulette is the best example of why open works (and why it terrifies big media). I’ve embedded two videos from Chatroulette in this post. Both of them make me laugh out loud, applaud, bow down in awe before the creativity of web users.

There was no gatekeeper. There was no publisher. The 17 year old behind Chatroulette simply said “let’s make this cool technology that connects people globally and see what they do with it.”

Much of it is rubbish. Some of it is fun. A few gems are jaw-droppingly amazing.

And this is why open will *always* win.

About Nicholas Lovell

Nicholas is the founder of Gamesbrief, a blog dedicated to the business of games. It aims to be informative, authoritative and above all helpful to developers grappling with business strategy. He is the author of a growing list of books about making money in the games industry and other digital media, including How to Publish a Game and Design Rules for Free-to-Play Games, and Penguin-published title The Curve: thecurveonline.com
  • Thanks for your thoughtful comments Stan.

    But it might not surprise you that I don't entirely agree with you.

    Firstly, YouTube will share revenue with its content providers, once they reach a certain threshold. Not quite sure what the threshold is, but you can get a share of ad revenue at some point.

    But my second point is the one that publishers struggle with. This is free advertising. Free, global advertising. The old model involved spending a lot of money on a product, and then persuading people to buy it through spending more money. Now, these people are getting global publicity, for free, for a few hours or days worth of effort.

    What's that worth?

    I don't know. Morton might get a record contract. More likely, his gigs will go from 2,000 people to 20,000 people. The Lady GaGa performer might get a acting role, or involved in advertising agency, or he could put an ad for his restaurant (if he owned one) at the end so people came and ate there.

    My point is that it is a mistake to think that the only (or indeed the best) way of monetizing a piece of content is to sell it. This free marketing is incredibly valuable, if you have a strategy for making money from it.

    And the web has enabled all of us to make money in that way.

  • Stan Beremski

    Ethically I am with you on this but that means that I have to slightly amend your statement; Open *should* always win (for some).

    But who actually wins?

    Sure, Sneezing Panda (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s_WWAVXZyuQ) has probably generated more positive emotional experience worldwide than some crappy TV shows made by Big Media but who profited from this?

    Its creators? No.
    The Pandas? No.
    The distributors? Yep.

    YouTube is open to the extent that anyone can upload their content and achieve distribution to worldwide audience on a variety of platforms. YouTube is not open when it comes to sharing the monetization of the traffic generated by this 3rd party content. YouTube/Google are quickly becoming THE gatekeepers between advertisers, content creators and the viewers.

    This blog post is a case in point. The biggest winners here (in a financial sense) are definitely YouTube, who host this recorded Chatroulette content, as opposed to Mr Gaga, Merton or the guy who made Chatroulette.

    We can extended this debate to consider non-monetary compensation. Mr Gaga probably gets a kick out doing what he does. I am sure that Merton is not exactly displeased with the media attention he is getting. I can't help but think that the guy with biggest smile on his face is a YouTube exec who has recently had an old fashioned till screwed into his desk so that whenever he sees videos like the ones posted he just tug on the lever that opens the till and and shout “KAATCHING”