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July 9 6: The briefly ascendant Chatroulette. Seth Stevenson is a frequent contributor to Slate. He is the author of Grounded: The latest buzz phrase in the world of online kibbitzing is "social discovery. Social discovery sites are designed to help you find and meet new people. Badoo is perhaps the most successful social discovery site on earth. Until the massive ad campaign it Baido hookups this spring in New York City—plastering subway cars with photos of young, attractive New Yorkers, all putatively clamoring to chat with you online—I had never heard of it.
When I polled friends to see if they were familiar with Badoo, most confused it with Baidu, the Google of China. But Baido hookups turns out that Badoo has registered million users worldwide, is available in 40 languages, and clocks more than 7 billion page views each month. Advertisement Intrigued by this little-known social behemoth, I registered a profile and began to wander through the site.
A powerful impulse to flee and hide. The Badoo layout is a riot of colors and clickable buttons. A miasma of thumbnail photos showing men in sideways baseball hats and women in clingy halter tops. Within moments of posting a single, boring photo of myself, and listing my interests as racket sports and sushi, strangers began to initiate chats with me. Stacy, of Beaver Dam, Wis.
She listed among her interests short-shorts, Skittles, Swarovski, and chicken. Imagine an unknown woman from Wisconsin—perhaps wearing crystal-encrusted short-shorts, munching on Skittles, etc. How best to respond? You might well interpret the act as flirtation. Most profiles I clicked on declared romantic intentions: This is a hookup site, I realized. She likens it to being at a bar in a South American city, where people are apt to casually approach one another other and say hi with no immediate ulterior motive.
Advertisement But will this free-for-all format catch on with a broader American audience? And unlike dating sites, Badoo has no algorithm. No computer program whirs on your behalf, in search of your ideal match. Though, to be fair, the act of rejection is more distanced online: Women can shut down to an unwanted Badoo advance by simply clicking away from a chat invite, while at a bar they cannot physically evaporate at will, try as they might. Which is sort of amazing, given the volume of traffic it boasts.
The strategy makes sense for Badoo, whose users often log in from their phones: Facebook has been bumping up against this very problem. Micropayments are one solution. Suddenly, my photo appeared at the top of the site. About 40 new visitors clicked on my smiling mug in a matter of seconds. But the horde that descended on my previously sleepy profile seemed completely random. But my wave of new visitors included lots of dudes, as well as women hailing from places like Passaic, Putnam Valley, and Berlin.
No one within feet of my apartment, Grindr style. And frankly no one I was all that jazzed to even have a conversation with. One guy named Stephen sent me repeated chat messages: One of my visitors used a profile picture that appeared to be a stock photo of a model. She initiated a chat with me, during which her listed age suddenly changed from 24 to I called her on it. Not long after, she disappeared. When it comes to social discovery, we find our own tribe.
Many of the profiles feature witty, in-depth, highly literate self-descriptions. Paying money to meet people suggests the matter is of some urgency. But others might feel differently. The fee to join eHarmony could be viewed as a plus—keeping out the half-assed riffraff, and imbuing the quest for a mate with a workmanlike seriousness.