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ChatRoulette Sparks "Next" Proxy War Between the U.S. and Russia

Andrey Ternovskiy, the 17-year-old creator of Chat Roulette, is now embroiled in a bidding war that pits the U.S. and Russia against each other over where the company will end up. Could it blow up like Facebook? Or fizzle like MySpace?

<a href=Andrey Ternovskiy" />

Andrey Ternovskiy, creator of Chat Roulette, just might be sitting on the hottest Internet property since Facebook was founded five years ago. But he's not American. He's Russian. And that's putting him smack in the middle of some powerful forces. On the one hand, Russia investors backed by the Prime Minister himself are egging him to stay. But the freedom and riches of America might just draw him away.

That tension is outlined in the first profile of Ternovskiy to appear, published by German daily Der Spiegel. Just check out this amazing scene, in which Yuri Milner—a Russian investor with a net worth is around $680 million and who's Facebook's largest overseas backer—tries to entice Ternovskiy:

Milner and Ternovskiy talk for an hour and a half. The multimillionaire would like to go into business with the teenager, who hasn't been to school in weeks and is on the verge of being expelled because of his truancy. After all, Ternovskiy is a businessman now. Milner wants to buy 10 percent of Chatroulette. He wants Ternovskiy to name his price but the teenager simply strings the entrepreneur along.

And the stakes, of course, are international in scope:

...The combined value of Google, Microsoft and Facebook amounts to roughly $500 billion, or about a third of the Russian economy's annual output. So if Russia—which has more than 50 million Internet users and boasts one of the fastest-growing markets—hopes to catch up, then it will need to keep talents like Ternovskiy at home.
But Ternovskiy doesn't sign with Milner straight away. He wants to think about Milner's offer first. How much is his idea really worth? Some estimates put it at worth somewhere between €10 million and €30 million. And should he join forces with a Russian business partner or with an American company?

The profile has a few fascinating tidbits—Ternovskiy is busy trying to keep "freaks and fuckers" off the site. And the pictures are priceless—the fresh-faced tyke as he grins in a bedroom filled with empty bookshelves, or out in front of his grim Soviet-era housing complex.

But more troubling for Milner and Russia, he's planning on at least visiting America to hear out investors. "The Internet is my world. It connects Moscow with the West," he says. And he's always dreamed about owning a Silicon Valley start-up.

There's been lots of talk that American is on the decline, because we no longer draw the smartest young immigrants. But it's telling that Ternovskiy's dreams seem to be drawing him here.

While ChatRoulette may seem like a goofy gimmick for one-handed-Web-surfing pervs, there's no reason it can't become something mainstream. French Connection already uses it for marketing. (Why couldn't product designers and marketers sit down for random interviews? And why shouldn't ever fifth "next" be an ad?) Moreover, as our intrepid Dan Macsai suggests, ChatRoulette opens up a whole new world of Internet socializing. Which actually sounds a lot like Facebook, right? You could imagine all sorts of silos, from dating to random conversations, filtered by topics or interests. But Ternovskiy will need the right business partners to make sure it doesn't suffer the fate of MySpace instead.

[Der Spiegel via ReadWriteWeb]

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  • Mike Harrop

    Andrey Tenorsky should set up a nice neutral ChatRoulette corporation in say .lu or .ch, then arbitrarily value his idea at $100m, sell 4.9% for $4.9m to nationally unidentified investors, so he's cashed up. Then stay simple, no added features, just let it build while he cleans up the grossest parts. That plus the genius brand-name have pre-empted everyone else. He talks totally post-bubble (if you can read between the journalistic hyperventilation) - he crowd-sources like others breathe. And this legacy cold war rhetoric journalese is so passé. And you can count on people to fixate on the misuse possibilities and not see what this is all about. The idea of random frontierless "newfriending" is very attractive, and most of us do it already without realizing. Aren't most of your non-core acquaintances 100% replaceable by someone else ? Don't you meet the most interesting people randomly outside your usual cocoon ? Isn't most of life random ?
    Cheers, Mike

  • utibe etim

    Chatroulette could be a fun diversion for adults, but for teens, it's a no go area.  Though the 17years old boy Andrey Tenorsky who created the site states that it's for people over 16 and no pornography or nudity is allowed. But since there is no registration process or login session, it becomes quite difficult to control who use the site.
    Other sites that are similar to chatroulette like have VIP and many other sections and rooms that you can choose from unlike chatroulette that you come face-to-face immediately you enter the sites

  • Darren Larose

    I find ChatRoulette quite amusing. I was sad there wasn't a Facebook flavor of it, so a friend and I made one! Perhaps it won't have the mass-appeal of ChatRoulette but we're having a hoot testing it out. Tonight we're testing again around 7:00PM EST. Join in if you're curious...

  • Dominic Bédard

    Quelques lignes de code, une bande passante rassurante et de (vraiment très) gros sous...

  • James Mash

    I don't believe Chatroulette would be bought by the likes of MySpace or Facebook. Too many bad connotations included with the site. However, I can see one of them creating their own. If I were Ternovisky I would sell as soon as possible http://www.chatroulettevideos....