March 16, 2010

Chatroulette Takes the College Crowd by Storm

If you’ve been paying attention to the blogs over the past month, you’ve probably started noticing an increasing focus on (and maybe even an obsession with?) Chatroulette. For those who don’t already know, it’s a new video chat service that randomly assigns users video chat partners anywhere around the globe, an experience that can, in theory, be educational, enlightening and eye-opening. But users should be warned that what might at first glance be eye-opening can on second glance become – shall we say -- blinding (as in, burn-a-hole-in-your-eyes blinding). Sometimes you just don’t know who or what will be waiting for you on the opposite end of that camera and it’s probably not advised for the faint of heart. I suppose this unpredictability is also part of what makes the experience intriguing and even addictive for some participants. It’s a spin of the digital roulette wheel and there’s a natural curiosity to see what will happen next – even if it can leave you cringing.

All value judgments aside for the moment, Chatroulette has clearly tapped into some sort of primal digital instinct that has piqued the curiosity of droves of Internet users right now. The trend is beginning to catch on like wildfire with a recent growth trajectory far surpassing what we usually see with hot new sites. Chatroulette actually first registered on our radar in the month of January with 109,000 U.S. unique visitors, so this is a very recent phenomenon. When we released our February data last week, I was somewhat taken aback to see that the number of U.S. visitors to Chatroulette had exploded to 960,000 in a single month.

After witnessing this jump in activity, I began to wonder who exactly are the people visiting Chatroulette? So I took a look at their demographic profile, which revealed some interesting characteristics. (The user skews I’m going to reference are indexed to the average Internet user, with an index of 100 indicating average representation of a particular user segment and an index over 100 indicating above average representation.) To begin, there is an overwhelming skew towards people between the ages of 18-24, i.e. the college crowd. In fact, this narrow age segment accounts for 45% of the entire Chatroulette audience. There is also a very strong skew towards males, who comprised 72% of the audience. Put those two demographic segments together and you get 18-24 year old males, who by far showed the strongest propensity to visit Chatroulette. They account for three out of every ten users and are four times more likely than the average Internet user to visit. Males 25-34 and females 18-24 were also significantly more likely than average to frequent the site.

I also took a look at the site categories with which visitors to Chatroulette have the highest index relative to the average Internet user. The profile was pretty consistent with the demographic trends. Chatroulette users were nearly four times as likely to use Instant Messengers and nearly three times as likely to use discussion/chat sites, which is not surprising given that Chatroulette is similar in medium. Users are also significantly more likely to visit Career Training & Education sites, suggesting perhaps they are also more likely to be unemployed, at an early stage of their careers or that they are students. They also had a high affinity for music, humor, gaming and tickets sites, which is also very typical among college-aged Internet users.

It will be interesting to see how this user profile shifts as the site gains in popularity. While much of the content currently on this site can be objectionable, if Chatroulette begins to implement tighter security and terms of service policies, it could potentially gain more mainstream acceptance and we might see the user dynamics change very quickly. Only time will tell and it’s something we’ll keep an eye on …but not too closely, lest we get blinded.

Tags: Demographics