Chatroulette, the site that connects two random webcam users onscreen in a chat room and lets them figure out what to do next, is probably past its Internet prime. But SpeedDate.com co-founder Dan Abelon scheduled a telephone call with me to talk about what his video-dating service had learned by studying Chatroulette for a few weeks.
You can play Spot the SpeedDate Talking Points with Dan’s answers to my questions, but it’s worth reading him because SpeedDate has thoroughly studied Chatroulette’s turf. “We’re not the same as Chatroulette, but what we do is similar,” Abelon said. “We hook people up for three minutes, so you can screen your dates in real-time. You screen someone first, see if there’s any chemistry, and only then do you decide to meet them or not.”
What does Chatroulette tell us about society, I asked? “I think it’s telling us that people need to quickly feel a connection with someone else,” Abelon answered. “Most dating sites still only allow people to screen each other through photos and profiles. We’re enabling people to screen each other through a short live interaction, rather than reading each other’s resumes. It’s more like how meeting people in real life is. You form a first impression very quickly.”
What SpeedDate offers that Chatroulette doesn’t is pre-filtering of other members. Of course, that was part of Chatroulette’s appeal to Internet hipsters who thought they had seen everything. New York Times blogger Nick Bilton described it as “speed-dating tens of thousands of perfect strangers — some clothed, some not.”
Abelon told me that on SpeedDate.com, members usually prefer to only be connected to people of a specific gender, age range, and geographic area. It’s just like the old “a/s/l check” in AOL chat rooms. Age, sex, and location are still important factors. On Chatroulette, you may find yourself hooked up with a cat, as shown here.
My burning question for Abelon was, what other business could be built around surprise video hookups? I was glad he didn’t give me a boilerplate answer about how the company is looking at a bunch of options. “Maybe it could be used for hiring,” he suggested. “But for us, it’s dating.”