Burned by Buzz and Facebook, we’re falling in love with anonymity all over again
Our love affairs with Google and Facebook are growing stale, because these companies — that we have loved so fiercely over the years — are toying with our privacy.
We’ve been on the rocks with Facebook since the end of last year, when it surprised us with new privacy controls. They left us feeling overexposed and confused. Then, threatened by our relationship with Facebook, Google forced Buzz on us last week, and took our most intimate possession — our email contact lists — public.
When relationships go sour, we often get nostalgic. Are we falling in love with the anonymity and random connections of the early days of the Internet all over again? Chat Roulette and a new Urban Daddy offering, Failin.gs, make me think so.
Chat Roulette is all the rage right now — it’s been covered by New York Mag and the New York Times in the last week. The program, which has gone from less than 500 users at the beginning of the year to 20,000 per night, was created by a 17-year-old Russian, Andrey Ternovskiy, and lets you randomly video chat with people from across the globe. Basically, it’s an AOL chat room with video.
Meanwhile, Urban Daddy is launching* promoting a website called Failin.gs, a place where you create a profile for your “friends” to leave anonymous criticisms. It’s like a “What I-Hate-About-Your-Face”-book.
Why are these Web 1.0 creations suddenly hot?
Chat Roulette is extremely basic. There’s your webcam video, a box for a stranger’s webcam video, a chat box, and a “Next” button. Like roulette, you take your chances with what you’ll get when you hit next. It might be a guy in a cat suit or, more likely according to others who have tried it, penises in various stages of tumescence. According to Tim Walker at the Independent, it’s “like some bastard child of Skype and Stumbleupon.” I would make that a threesome, and add YouPorn.
The allure is not the masturbating chatters. Rather it’s the chance to have a unique and substantive encounter with someone random. There are no profiles for users. There are no long-term connections with other Chat Rouletters. You only know what you see and what they tell you before one of you hits next. It strikes me as an anti-social-networking movement.
Meanwhile, Failin.gs wants to turn friends against one another. An email from Urban Daddy inviting users to try a beta version says:
Welcome to Failin.gs, a dangerous new website where your friends can post what they really think of you, all with a cloak of total anonymity, in beta now.
In short, it’s the ideal spot for a no-holds-barred conversation about…long-festering feelings regarding your co-workers, friends and sworn archenemies. If you’re eager to face your critics (and really, you’ve got nothing to fear), you can sign up for a profile. Then you’ll send it to your friends (and/or frienemies) via Twitter, Facebook or email. They’ll be able to leave a tweet-length comment that’s meant to inspire improvement (“Your remarkable rainmaking skills are embarrassing the rest of us at the firm”), all without revealing their identities. If you disagree, you can say so with a vote; if your friends insist, they can also say so with a vote. (Basically, it’s like high school all over again.)
Well, that sounds… terrible. As a regular blogger with a, um, special relationship with my anonymous readers, I can tell you that inviting anonymous comments about yourself is a dangerous thing.
Do any of us really want to be on a site dedicated to anonymous personal attacks? Urban Daddy thinks so, and it’s a service known for being “in the know.”
Maybe we’re feeling burned by just how much we’re known on the Internet thanks to Facebook and Google Buzz. And that’s why these new services offering the thrill of anonymity and fleeting connections are appealing.
But I suspect Chat Roulette and Failin.gs will just be flings. Random penises and ad hominem attacks don’t usually lay the groundword for fulfilling or sustainable relationships.
* This post has been updated. An Urban Daddy representative contacted me to say:
UrbanDaddy is not “launching” Falin.gs. Rather, Failin.gs is a website that is independent of us, and one that we thought merited editorial coverage. UrbanDaddy is not affiliated with them (or with anything else we cover–UD is pure editorial) in any way.
More generally, UrbanDaddy would never, ever, dream of encouraging friends to turn against one another.