When it exploded onto the scene last winter, Chatroulette quickly earned a reputation for being a repository for the Internet’s id. Even if you ignored all the penises–and you couldn’t–there was even something about the more PG-rated encounters that made them intense and visceral. Even the cutest uses of Chatroulette–think Merton the improv pianist–had an edge to them. To stare a perfect random stranger in the face, right in his or her home, anywhere in the world–there was an almost unbearable rawness to it.
Enter BlurryPeople, whose idea is to take Chatroulette and tame it with a massive dose of superego.
The problem with low-barrier online dating has always been that it’s low-barrier,” BlurryPeople’s co-founder Jelmer Feenstra tells Fast Company. “A lot of crap gets in. Most notably: Men pretending to be women; people pretending to be George Clooney; spammers; scammers; prostitutes.”
On BlurryPeople, patience is a filter. Chats with strangers begin with the faces blurred out. At one minute, the face resolves a bit; at two minutes, a bit more; and only at about three minutes do you begin to see a person’s face at high resolution. By then, you’ve already been talking to the person long enough to feel like a connection has been made. (Chatroulette added a blurry feature to its redesign, but it only lasts a few seconds.) BlurryPeople’s marquis feature makes dispatching with pervs an easy, less gruesome task—even when blurred, you can tell the difference between Dicks and dicks.
“Obviously there’s no way to guarantee that people will keep their pants on,” Feenstra says. “The blur helps in the sense that it allows users to disconnect before having to deal with, um, certain body parts in excruciating detail.”
BlurryPeople also has taken other general steps to go right where Chatroulette went wrong. After chatting with someone, you “like” them on the site if you have registered. Later, you can see when they’re online and ask to connect again. After a conversation, the site invites you to rate another person’s “awesomeness,” by saying to what degree he or she was friendly, interesting, and good-looking. If you get a positive rating, you receive a message saying you’ve gained awesomeness points, Feenstra said recently. To top it all off, BlurryPeople has a friendly, downright cute, design and user interface, complete with purple text bubbles and a tendency to write the word “awesome” in big pink letters.
In retrospect, it now seems that where Chatroulette was a proof-of-concept, BlurryPeople feels more like a fully fledged idea. It takes the raw energy—and let’s admit it, the genius—behind Chatroulette, and adds all the social features of the Web 2.0 world that have turned (most of) the Internet from a lawless and sex-crazed frontier into a real community—6,000 currently registered, Feenstra says, with many more using it anonymously.