Remember Chatroulette? It's hard to believe that barely eight months ago the anonymous video chat site had everyone captivated. Venture capitalists clamored to invest, journalists tripped over one another to profile—and now Chatroulette is dying, unused and unloved.
It's not just that people seem to have stopped talking about the voyeuristic social network; they seem to have stopped going to it, as well.
It doesn't help that the site became infamous as a haven for bared cocks and unsolicited masturbation, or that even after the site closed down for a week in August the penis problem still hadn't been solved, despite some talk of dick detection software.
The internet will always be a hotbed of pan flashes — like PointCast, which proved too bandwidth intensive; Napster, done in by the courts, and Hot Or Not, which just got old. Stories of bad timing and lost opportunity are as old as Silicon Valley. But tech entrepreneurs should take heed of the speed of the rise and fall of Chatroulette and its Russian teenaged founder Andrey Ternovskiy. It's a lesson in how quickly the window to fame and fortune can close these days. Here's how nice things were looking for Ternovskiy barely a season ago:
- Written up in a long New Yorker feature (!) in May.
- Taken under the wing of New York venture capitalist Fred Wilson, who wrote a letter fast-tracking his visa to visit the U.S.
- Set up with a Palo Alto apartment by Shervin Pishevar, founder of Social Gaming Network an "informal investor" in Chatroulette.
- Aggressively courted by Russian investment firm Digital Sky Technologies.
- Buddied up with Napster inventor Shawn Fanning, who became an informal advisor.
Those were the days, and they're not coming back. And, no, creating a non-anonymous version exclusively for Mac users won't save the tired concept. Ternovskiy should have said "yes" to at least one investor, although it doesn't appear he ever did. The young programmer shouldn't be written off, but his creation Chatroulette has pulled the trigger one too many times. Hey, it happens. On to the next experiment.