Chatroulette, the social website that connects users randomly for short online video chats, has become one of 2010's more interesting 'startup' stories. Founded by a 17 year-old high school student in Russia, Chatroulette has attracted so much attention that some are convinced it could become a valuable business.
Yet according to comScore, Chatroulette's traffic dropped for the first time ever in May, leading some to wonder whether Chatroulette is on the verge of proving itself to be little more than the latest crazy internet fad.
Obviously, traffic figures are going to fluctuate from month to month, and given Chatroulette's meteoric rise, a drop -- even if temporary -- was bound to occur. It's entirely possible, if not probable, that Chatroulette will see further traffic increases.
Yet there's good reason to believe that Chatroulette's fastest growth is behind it, and that it is more likely to be a fad than a long-term phenomenon: a lack of strong network effects.
There's no doubt that the social experience Chatroulette provides is intriguing, if not somewhat predictable in a NSFW way. But unlike popular social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, Chatroulette doesn't support strong, long-term connection between its users. Instead, the connections it facilitates are fleeting.
That's going to make it awfully tough for Chatroulette to maintain the kind of loyalty seen on popular social networks. Facebook users might be skeptical about the company's privacy stance, for instance, or even tire of the overall experience, but those who have lots of 'friends' will always have an incentive to stick around, even if their usage declines. Once Chatroulette users tire of the experience, however, there are no strong network effects to keep them from leaving altogether.
Considering this, the biggest challenge for Chatroulette is not finding ways to filter out body parts, but finding ways to build stronger network effects without completely eliminating the randomness that makes Chatroulette so intriguing in the first place.
For obvious reasons, that's a tall order and at some point, Chatroulette's founder, Andrey Ternovskiy, might wonder why he didn't take the money and click 'Next.'
Photo credit: avantexgarde via Flickr.