How to make Chatroulette a useful video network

This post initially appeared on CNET News.com

by Larry Magid

Andrey Ternovskiy, the 17-year-old Russian high school student who created Chatroulette, is this week visiting New York and San Francisco to chat with investors and programmers.

Perhaps with a little help, he can transform the site from a place where you’re likely to stumble on someone playing with their private parts into a really useful video social-networking site.

It seems what Chatroulette mostly needs is separate channels so that users can more easily find people with similar interests. I personally don’t have any problem with consenting adults having video chats in the buff, but it would be nice if the rest of us could use Chatroulette to have real conversations with fully clothed people. That could be accomplished if there were ways to select the subject matter of the conversation and perhaps a few other parameters such as language or region.

Imagine a site where you could have a face-to-face discussion about our involvement in Iraq and Iran with people from countries who have a different perspective about those wars. How about a channel where Israelis and Palestinians could get to know one another?

I might visit a channel dedicated to technology. It might be interesting to see what people in Asia are thinking about the iPad or the latest Android phone.

If Chatroulette does wind up allowing adult channels, there should be a tool for parents to easily keep kids from accessing those channels. There could also be channels just for kids with live human monitors making sure nothing inappropriate takes place. But even if there were some controls, I’d recommend that young kids only use a live video chat site with a parent in the room.

The site has a lot of potential for educational use. Teachers could use it to link their students with kids in other parts of the world, again with supervision and structure.

With a bit of funding, some adult supervision and a good privacy and security team, young Ternovskiy could turn this site into a pretty powerful and useful tool for both the web and mobile devices.

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