As the purveyor of perhaps the web's second most popular webcam site, Omegle, Leif K-Brooks, 19, is one of the youngest people to help usher in the age of anonymous, face-to-face chat on the web.
I chat with K-Brooks Sunday evening about his reaction to the first look at the new Chatroulette, Omegle's similarly meteoric rise to webcam fame, and why sites like his are so popular.
Q&A with Omegle Founder Leif K-Brooks
About.com: After first being told we'd see the new Chatroulette Monday (August 23), we are finally seeing some of the new features a week later, even though the site still does not work. Early reactions?
Leif: So far, ChatRoulette doesn't seem to have added any new features; just redesigned the interface a bit. ChatRoulette was down for a week prior to the new version being released, and honestly, that left me scratching my head a bit.
It drove users away, and many of them came to Omegle; Omegle's traffic increased by 16 percent last week, and is still increasing. Omegle is now seeing over 1 million page views each day.
About.com: So, when all is said and done, do you think Omegle can take Chatroulette?
Leif: From comments I've seen Andrey Ternovskiy make in the media, and from how the new interface is designed, it seems the plan is to marginalize and perhaps ultimately eliminate the text component of chats. I think that's a mistake.
Video is certainly more exciting than text, but there are things that are much easier to communicate via text than video. Omegle supports a text-only mode in addition to video chat, and although video chat is growing more quickly, text chat is very popular as well. Supporting dedicated text chat also allows Omegle to support mobile devices, most of which don't have front-facing cameras or would face app approval challenges for video stranger chat.
About.com: Well, let me play devil's advocate; if you were at Chatroulette, what would you have done differently?
Leif: From a technical perspective, ChatRoulette's new version looks a bit iffy to me. It's now using a technology called HTTP polling, which is extremely inefficient. Basically, each ChatRoulette user sends a message to the server every couple of seconds, causing the server to have to process tens of thousands of messages per second.
ChatRoulette has been going up and down for the past few hours, and it looks like that's the direct result of polling causing the server to overload. It's almost like the site is performing a distributed denial of service (DDOS) attack on itself.
About.com: With that sort of issue, Omegle could stand to benefit. Meanwhile, you are critical, obviously, of how Chatroulette decided to roll out this update. How would Omegle deal with such an upgrade?
Leif: My plans for Omegle are straightforward: continue to improve the user experience by streamlining the UI, increasing spam protection, and expanding to additional platforms. Omegle works great now, and I want to polish it to perfection.
About.com: But, do you think Omegle can become the number one anonymous webcam chat site?
Leif: I think Omegle is poised to become the leading way to find new people and chat with them. Obviously, it's not looking to replace traditional IM services like AIM and Skype which let you talk to your existing friends, but I do think Omegle can replace chatrooms to a large extent.
People go into chatrooms looking to meet new friends, but when a chatroom has more than a few users in it, it tends to become chaotic and confusing, with too many people talking at once. One-on-one random stranger chat is a much better way of meeting new friends.
About.com: Stranger chat does seem to be popular, but many parents are concerned about the possible obscene content; what do you think the solution would be, if Omegle were to offer one?
Leif: Omegle isn't for young children. I would strongly advise parents to inspect any website before allowing their children to use it. I'm taking every possible step to protect Omegle's users, including working with law enforcement agencies where appropriate; however, fundamentally, nothing can beat parental involvement and supervision for protecting children.
Also, if anything makes an Omegle user feel unsafe or uncomfortable, they can just click the 'disconnect' button to immediately prevent the offending stranger from being able to talk to them anymore.
About.com: Finally, sites like Omegle have helped usher in this age of "stranger chat," as you call it; why do you think anonymous webcam chat is so popular?
Leif: It's pretty simple--people like socialization, and anonymous webcam chat is a great way to socialize. Nothing beats the immediacy of clicking one button and instantly having someone on your screen to talk to.
Interested in sites like Omegle? Check out our Top 7 Free Webcam Sites.