Facebook app Video Chat Rounds, an interactive playground built around video chat, today launches Random Rounds to allow some of its 300,000 monthly active users to chat with strangers. The app had sought to differentiate itself from the shallow interactions and unwanted nudity of random video chat sites like Chatroulette by letting users play games, share virtual gifts, and cooperatively browse Facebook or YouTube through the app.
Now it will try to offer a similar service without succumbing to objectionable content or sacrificing privacy.
Random Rounds allows users be connected with a random Video Chat Rounds user. To reduce the chances for abuse, only users with 100 Facebook friends or more can use Random Rounds, preventing people from using new fake accounts. A user’s full name is immediately available to their chat partner. Users are grouped by age — 13 to 17 and 18 and up — to prevent kids from inappropriately chatting with adults.
If these safeguards don’t work, users can easily report objectionable behavior to Video Chat Rounds and Facebook using one of several links. This ensures predators or those trying to expose themselves will be banned from the app and possibly have their Facebook account terminated. Overall, Random Rounds does a surprisingly good job of keeping out the troublemakers, which led to the rapid decline of Chatroulette and its copy cats.
Video Chat Rounds’ existing offering of features is what really makes it fun. Users get a unique rnds.me URL that acts as their video chat phone number. While video chatting with friends, users can take photo snapshots and post them to their wall and overlay virtual gift stamps or effects on the stream of themselves or their friend. In this way, it takes the most addictive parts of Apple’s Photobooth and other humorous still image editing software and applies it to video.
Even more impressive is how users can play games together in real time, from chess to Truth or Dare to an arcade shooting gallery. Users can also collaboratively browse YouTube or Flickr, with both users able to click to play videos or display photos. This type of shared experience approximates sharing a single computer screen with a friend, and can be used as a lightweight screen sharing app .
The ability to collaboratively browse Facebook is fun and innovative. One users grants Video Chat Rounds additional permissions, displaying a stripped down version of their profile to both users. They can then browse photos or friend profiles together, with both users controlling an active cursor simultaneously. The two can even work together to compose a status update, the only the profile’s owner can publish it. The procrastination and engagement potential in being able to browse a friend’s Facebook account remotely is enormous.
Video Chat Rounds plans to monetize by selling virtual goods, such as additional games, stamps, and effects. Users can currently buy these with coins earned for inviting friends to the app, but they’ll eventually be able to purchase with Facebook Credits. Video Chat Rounds may also consider advertising and in-app sponsorships down the line. Currently, its concentrating on improving its Facebook search ranking, so users find it before larger competitors vChatter and Tinychat when looking for “video chat”. The 5-month old, 12-person, $2.5 million funded company is also working maintain the user experience to keep up growth.
There are some privacy and content concerns with Video Chat Rounds, however. Nude photos sometimes appear in the photostream and users might not be aware that when they post a photo to their wall, it will be publicly available through the app. The Truth or Dare game asks questions like “What is the sexiest clothing you’ve ever worn?”, which might be inappropriate for younger users. In an effort to demonstrate the potential for brand sponsorships, the app used a Heineken bottle in Truth or Dare, which violates Facebook’s alcohol guidelines. Since we informed the team, they say they are working on replacing it with a non-alcoholic bottle.
The Facebook collaborative browsing sidesteps privacy controls. Both users can view any content visible to the connected user, meaning one can share another user’s photos that are restricted to ‘friends only’ with someone who isn’t a friend. Video Chat Rounds’ Marketing Manager says they don’t view it as a privacy breach, but “as two people sitting in the same room”. Facebook might not approve of some of these privacy and security issues, putting the app in jeopardy.
It’s biggest hurdle, though, will be overcoming the stigma that video chat is an unsavory realm frequented by sexual predators. Random Rounds is relatively safe, but merely offering a random chat service may cause users to write off the app.