Hi, I'm Dave Mulder. This is my website, where I write about user experience and product design.

Originally Published: March 8, 2010

Chatroulette and chance

Mainstream media has portrayed Andrey Ternovskiy, the Russian teenager who created Chatroulette, as a technology savant. While Chatroulette is a neat service, its success is not due to much more than chance.

Malcolm Gladwell wrote a book called The Tipping Point, published in 2002. The author discusses the ways that products and ideas can take root and spread, like a virus. Essentially, you need to get your thing in front of social connectors and hope that they can influence their network as well as other social connectors.

When these things happen without deep product insights, the cascade effect is largely determined by pure chance. For Chatroulette to have made such an explosion, some event happened early on that triggered an avalanche of growth. Without that event occurring, it would have taken the site much longer to make an impact, or perhaps it never would have at all.

For every Chatroulette that succeeds, how many other novel and interesting ideas have failed? Was Ternovskiy’s app really the first webcam connection site or were there others that just did not get in front of the right people? No one will ever know. Thankfully, the teenager creator of Chatroulette is humble and recognizes just how unexpected his success has been.