Here's a postscript to my Word of the Week entry on the transitive verb next, which has become widespread thanks to the globally popular website Chatroulette.
In her Letter from Moscow in the May 17 New Yorker, Julia Ioffe writes about the origins of Chatroulette in the family apartment of Moscow teenager Andrey Ternovskiy:
Chatroulette.com was originally called Head-to-Head.org, and it came online on August 2, 2009. Ternovskiy’s friends didn’t like it, so he advertised on Web forums. Users trickled in, but the site had glitches, and the name seemed off. So on November 16th, having recently watched the Russian-roulette scene in “The Deer Hunter,” Ternovskiy bought the domain name Chatroulette.com, for seven dollars, and revamped the code. The site took off when a Brazilian soccer fan posted a notice inviting kindred spirits to mill around and talk about the sport. Hundreds of them showed up—at their peak, they constituted half of Chatroulette users—but they didn’t talk about soccer; instead, they took off their clothes.
The technology behind Chatroulette is fairly basic and not particularly new. But by combining video-chatting technology and randomization Ternovskiy has bucked a decade-long trend that has made the Internet feel progressively more organized, pleasant, and safe. Google (founded in 1998) makes sure you pull up less flotsam when you search. Social networks like Friendster (2002), MySpace (2003), and Facebook (2004) let you stay in touch with a network of people you already know. Privacy settings keep out the ones you don’t. Twitter (2006) feeds you information from sources you choose to follow. Now Chatroulette has come along and showed us that we want chaos, too.