Updated: January 3, 2011
I am not a big fan of online chats, never have been. When I was a kid, online chat was only starting and it was, well, not really exciting. Then, during my university studies, I did a brief stunt of visiting a few chat rooms in between quantum molestation and particle physics lessons. When you're really, really tired, like after work or studies, there are only three things you can do: play first person shooters, beat your wife and/or children or go to an online chat and spend some time talking to strangers.
Recently, I discovered Omegle. The concept is different from the typical chat room in that you engage in one-on-one conversations only, with mandatory handles You and Stranger. No fancy scrolling links or banners or stupid names. It sounded interesting. Plus, it's been some ten years since I last tried chatting, so I gave it a try. This article is the summary report of my social experiment with Omegle.
When you hit the website the first time, you are told that Omegle is a great place to meet friends. But I don't want any friends! If I did, I would pretend to have some on Facebook. Never mind. Anonymity is fairly good on Omegle. People are paired at random. It's all text. No live links, so chances of someone opening garbage sites by accident are fairly low. More about spam later, though.
ASL stands for Age Sex Location, a typical way of identifying potential partners and victims. It's one of the most common ways people filter out other people online. And it's probably the stupidest thing anyone could do.
You are online. You can be anyone or anything you want. You can be fat, bald, thin, rich, poor, 83 years of age, it makes no difference whatsoever. There is no way you can ascertain the identity of the other person. There's no way you can know if they are lying. At best, you may be smart enough to catch an inconsistency in their story or work through a detailed investigation that might confirm or refute their claims. But even so, you can't really be sure about anything.
Second, many people disconnect after learning another person's age or gender - or even location. It's a double-edged sword, really. If you ask certain details, there's a chance you may not like the answer or doubt the veracity of provided information. Then, if you don't ask, you can pretend they are whoever you want them to be. That's the beauty of a fictitious world called online. But you will have doubt gnawing at your bones.
Since the truth cannot be ascertained, any information provided is, de facto, a lie. Therefore, asking for any kind of identifying details is simply stupid and useless. You're there to talk to a stranger. If you know their name, age or marital status, they hardly remain strangers, eh? But you want to meet, quotation-marks, friends, right?
At first, I would wait for the other party to start the conversation. It would usually go: hi, hi, asl, I give the asl, they disconnect. All right. Maybe it's just me. Maybe there was something wrong with particular age, gender or geographic location. So I started varying my age from 0 to 99, invented new genders and locations and even borrowed some from fairy tales. Nothing really helped. The disconnect ratio within the first 10 seconds of chat on Omegle is probably more than 90%.
Later on, I tried initiating the conversation, with all kinds of funny or witty opening sentences designed to filter out lesser minds. Again, this did not quite work as expected. The disconnect ratio remained as high. Strangers worldwide simply refused to talk to me. Perhaps it's a kind of an exercise:
Open browser, go to Omegle, hi > asl > disconnect, repeat, 100 times?
But then, I realized that I was trying to assess the situation from an entirely wrong perspective.
All right, brace yourselves. Here comes the punchline. The first one. After spending roughly 10-15 hours on Omegle, patterns started to emerge. I was finally able to identify various prototypes of behavior. Apparently, little has changed in the ten years since I last attempted to talk to idiots across the globe.
This seems to be the sad truth of it. Even a seemingly innocent product like Omegle has been twisted into a losers' lobby for people who have not yet discovered the wonders of imagination, self contemplation, audio and video aids available for free on the Internet, DVD rentals, plastic and latex (not LaTeX) toys, and finally, failing all that, an actual interaction with another human being of compatible characteristics. Let's not forget a payware option, either. Within this context, ASL fits nicely. And makes Omegle miss its purpose entirely.
For some reason, the average IQ of people frequenting Omegle is about 42, no disrespect toward this magical number. I have not been able to categorize the age and education groups properly yet, but I believe most of the people visiting Omegle are young and not very bright - or both. Here's a stellar example:
And here's another:
Now, at some point, you decide you've had enough and start being nasty. Here are some examples. Confusing a cyber-minded lad with age and gender irrelevance.
Now here, explaining to a young lady (supposedly), the difference between nerd and geek:
Someone does not like the other parties and choose to curse - in a rather bad English. We can spin this into a Jamie Oliver kind of joke.
Here, even Omegle decides the joke is too harsh and hiccups a technical error.
Then, there's the honest guy who wants to answer ANY questions, but they turn a bit too hard for him.
Finally, the best of the best, alas no screenshot. Sometimes, other geeks come to Omegle, flaunting their vast intelligence. But the magical powers of a Masters degree in Electric Engineering is lost when my Omegle partner mistakes me for a casual moron. Then, the quantum mechanics kicks in. This smarmy lad asks me to explain the Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle, to prove my intelligence, so to speak. Well, very simple, my answer is [x,p]=ih. BOOM! He did not expect that. Which brings me to my most important conclusion, but that's a little later.
Quite a few Omegle squatters are scripted bots spamming links for all kinds of blogs and possibly Windows malware. There are a few who labor manually, and for some reason, they always disconnect when I ask them if their stuff works on Linux, even if I'm sometimes on a Windows machine when Omegle-ing. Hint: The chances of a Stranger starting the conversation with Hey or Hey, how are you? being a bot are around 67%. Pay attention to word Hey.
Not surprisingly, Omegle is stalked by cretins in all guises. I can't possibly begin to image what kind of agenda they might have. If you are a male (m in ASL abbreviation), you are more likely to get disconnected by a fellow stranger by several orders of magnitude. Likewise, the older you are, the more likely you are to not have any conversation with anyone, when logically, you have a far wider spectra of interests and topics and more mental ability to discuss them than someone younger. It is possible that supposedly young people do not want to talk to you. But it is also likely that you simply may be in the way of an alarmingly high number of perverts.
In fact, I would recommend to anyone going to Omegle for the first time to give their age at a boring 45 or so. This could hopefully scare away some of the resident cretins. But don't get your hopes too high. Here's a humorous (and rather true) distribution chart of the character types of the Omegle populace:
Some types may exist in more than one category, all at the same time. And let's not forget the fact that they are all looking for the staggering thrill of getting excited to badly spelled text written by an equally inept stranger.
I'm simply shocked that there are so many kids on Omegle, all alone and unsupervised. They are exposed to the same amount of crap I am, but they do not have the mental ability to reason or filter out the threats. They are far more likely to trust strangers and their strange facts, far more likely to try to open copy & pasted links and alike.
Moreover, more than once, I was asked what I'm doing on Omegle, being so old, so to speak. For some reason, young people who should not be on Omegle in the first place decided that Omegle was yet another stupid teen chat, where in fact, it's an unrestricted-age site. This assumption is bold, but expected from people who have MySpace accounts, but it also shows the skewed perspective of reality they have. How come? Who let these kids online? Finally, the important conclusion.
Reading about Omegle in various reviews, I found more than one person expressing concern about Omegle. Call me conservative, but I do agree. I would not call Omegle dangerous, but it's definitely not suited for people who lack sufficient judgment capacity. Omegle is not for kids. In fact, anyone aged 18 or less should not be there.
I wonder how I would behave if I were responsible for the welfare of children. It's a little disturbing that it takes only about seven seconds to talk to someone on the far side of the globe. While the wonders of technology have made the world so much more uniform, so much more accessible, they have also infinitely increased the exposure to negative aspects of human society.
The thing is, 20-30 years ago, you had to physically go to places and meet people, you had to live through each and every experience. It would take you a while until you met the next idiot or the conman. That did not mean people did not get into trouble back then. People were also more naive and trusting. But you gained all kinds of street credit and you were spared most of the rubbish that you get served in digital form today. Think about it. How much time would it have taken you to meet 100 strangers from various countries all around the globe? How much time does it take to meet 100 strangers on Omegle? Now, if you were to meet these people in real life, would you trust them, would you tell them your name, your age, your whatever? Of course not.
True zealots would tell you that Internet needs censorship and whatnot. Not at all. Internet is just fine as it is. People need to have the moral integrity and personal responsibility to enforce proper education and supervision within the confines of their homes, even if law does not require that in the first place. In theory, if you can't vote, then how come you can talk to strangers all over the world?
Let's all pretend to be nice and tolerant people who live in harmony with one another. Strike that. Chat rooms need to have enforced logging of all conversations, including IP addresses. Chat rooms may even need to have a human administrator present, who would be alerted to suspicious patterns in chats in real time, using Bayesian kind of filters.
I would go as far as to make parents legally responsible for any kind of activities their children may engage in chat rooms, including accidental dissemination of spam and Windows malware thingies. Perhaps this is done already.
I am not a conservative type, but children do not belong online. Period. As simple as that. And if, as a parent, you don't have the stamina to roundhouse them in the stomach when they misbehave, perhaps you ought not to procreate. There are better ways to spend your money than dabble in DNA replication.
Omegle could be a nice place to vent your anger and frustration after a long day at work, when your mind is in
the zen-like state of perfect stupor, but it's overcrowded with perverts, kids, people looking to have text sex,
and automated scripts. Sad really. Apparently, nothing has changed in the last ten years.