Imagine a world where you never had to leave your house to hook up with a complete stranger ... Wait: No need to imagine it, we're already living it!
Lori Getz: Web 2.0 gave us the ability to interact with those we know -- and those we don't -- in a whole new way. Making friends online is easy, what with social-networking sites and multi-player live gaming.
But now we enter what I believe to be Web 3.0: The next generation of social networking -- and it's all video based!
For some time now, I've been watching the growing trend of people moving from text chatting to video chatting. It started with iChat and Skype, which gave users the ability to stream live video to one another. Then Stickam.com popped up; it's a video-based social-networking site that allows multiple users to connect in one video chat room. You can be an active participant or just a lurker; it's completely voyeuristic in nature. (During the 2008 election, you could watch Obama Girl on Stickam as she viewed the election coverage.) And last week on Stickam, I watched three young girls wait for 800 lurkers to enter their chat room -- at which point they promised to "flash" their audience. (When I realized what they were doing, I sent all three girls a private message, begging them to stop. They publicly called me a narc and booted me out of the chat room.)
There are several of these video-chat sites popping up, including tinychat.com and Chatroulette.com. Tinychat is very similar to Stickam, but Chatroulette is different: You enter a room with two blank video windows -- one is labeled "Stranger," the other is labeled "You." You then click a button and are randomly connected with a total stranger who is also playing. Now you two can video chat. At any time you can click NEXT, and the virtual wheel will spin again, connecting you with someone new. (The site is an upgraded video version of another chat room called Omegle.com.)
Two years ago, I would have said that the chat-room trend seemed to be decreasing. Teens were moving in the direction of social networks. But as video-based chats are surfacing, the trend is moving in the opposite direction.
When I asked a group of senior girls, "Why Chatroulette?" one of them responded, "Without video, people can pretend to be anyone they want. But I can see who I'm talking to with Chatroulette -- so it's totally safe and easier than trying to meet people at a party!"
For the record, I do not agree with their assessment that it's "totally safe!"
One of the senior girls (who is 17) admitted that she'd met her boyfriend on Chatroulette, and said they're "very much in love." However, he's 35! She most likely wouldn't have met a 35-year-old man at a high-school party. But online, it's easy to do.
Not everyone on Chatroulette will be looking to fall in love with the person she's randomly selected to chat with. But think about it this way: Would you allow your teenager to go to a bar or an adult singles' mixer to meet new friends (not to drink, but just to meet people)? If your answer is anywhere in the vicinity of "That's inappropriate," you may want to talk to your teen about video chatting online.
|Lori Getz is the founder of Cyber Education Consultants and speaks to students, parents and educators about Internet safety, security and ethics. She has a Master of Arts in Educational Technology from San Diego State University and is certified by isafe.org as an Internet Safety Specialist. Her mission is to help bridge the gap between a young generation of digital natives and their parents and teachers. She is the mother of one and lives in Los Angeles with her husband.|