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Shuffle People

If you haven’t yet heard of Chatroulette, the webcam shuffle site that connects you with random people from around the world, then it’s time to crawl out from under that rock where you’ve apparently been hiding. This viral sensation, created by a 17-year-old Russian programmer, lets you flip through video chat sessions with anonymous strangers using a simple interface that anyone can master. You may end up having engaging conversations with someone thousands of miles away or you may connect with a curious voyeur like yourself, but you’re just as likely to come across the oddballs, the freaks, not to mention the downright disturbing.

Yet despite its weirdness, Chatroulette brings back an element of fun and surprise to vastness of the Internet, where social networks of friend lists and avatars has remained the norm for years on end. And now, thanks to the site’s popularity, the Chatroulette clones are beginning to appear.

Dubbing the sites below “clones” implies that they’re unoriginal knock-offs. That wouldn’t be fair, actually. Instead, the sites and services, for the most part, represent those that have taken the inspiration of Chatroulette and what it allows for and have cultivated that into a new type of service – a niche service, a text-based chat, a funny web collection of imagery – that serves a select audience’s needs.

The Clones
Case in point: JayDoe and Zupyo, Chatroulette-type services created in response to this request from a Reddit community member who asked for a service designed just for fellow “redditors,” as members of the social news website call themselves. (Side note: Hilariously, Zypyo’s creator found that, despite the request for a “mature” version of Chatroulette, Redditors still wanted to see, well, more than just each other’s faces.)

Next up there’s CamCarousel, dubbed a “better Chatroulette clone” by its creator, Ralf Rottmann. Meant to be more as a proof-of-concept at first – an example of how to build an app using Adobe’s Flex platform – the site began to grow as soon as he launched it on its own domain, He’s now considering open-sourcing the app and adding support for white-labeling, themes and premium accounts.

The Text Bots
Then there are the Chatrolette-like text bots like SomeoneRandom and Omegle.

Omegle is another Chatroulette-like text clone, but one that actually preceded the videocam site created by the Russian teen. This text-only chat site launched in March 2009 and touts itself as a place to “talk to strangers!” Also created by a teen, this time Vermont native Leif Brooks, Omegle may now gain more attention thanks to Chatroulette. A plus for this one: Omegle has an iPhone app for random connections on the go.

Another recent creation is text bot SomeoneRandom. Just add the account on Yahoo! Messenger or on Jabber clients. Send out a message (like “hello!”) to the bot to initiate a chat session with a random stranger. To end the session, type “bye.”

Popjam is a text-based random chat app that takes the conversation to Facebook by way of a Facebook application. However, as ReadWriteWeb blogger Dana Oshiro argues on her personal blog, chat services like Popjam and others miss the point of Chatroulette. Where the webcam-sharing site is boldy exposing people to each other’s real selves, chat site users are still able to hide their faces. That’s something that speaks volumes about our modern age. “I cannot help thinking that there is an entire generation who is fearless in the face of an anonymous crowd,” writes Dana.

The Spin-Offs
Finally, there are the spin-offs, like Catroulette, for example. This blog isn’t so much about real-time connections, though, just pictures of you and your cat. But don’t worry, it can still get weird, which, let’s face it, is the whole point.

And this is only the beginning, folks. Advertisements on various job boards have developers calling out for coders who can build Chatroulette-like sites or who are interested in buying ones that already exist. Prepare yourselves: the Chatroulette clones, variations and spin-offs will soon be upon us. Even Chatroulette itself is giving way to niche sites built around its service, like the MissedConnections site dedicated to those looking for romance via the webcam service.

Will any of the Chatroulette send-ups gain the notoriety and user base of the webcam-surfing oddity, though? Likely not. There’s something to be said for being the original, and, if nothing else, that’s exactly what Chatroulette is. And it’s a weird, odd, but addicting and wondrous original, at that.
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