The Brilliant Video-Chat Startup That Lets You Berate Strangers Who Disagree With You

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Oct. 10 2012 11:54 AM

Video-Chat Startup ShoutRoulette Lets You Berate Strangers Who Disagree With You

ShoutRoulette.com
A new website encourages you to vent your rage at people who hold opinions that differ from your own.

Screenshot / ShoutRoulette.com

Are you sick and tired of civil discourse? Fed up with a media landscape populated by soft-spoken commentators droning unflappably about complex, nuanced issues? Exhausted by the societal norms that require you to treat others politely and with respect, even when you disagree with them? Then I may have just the website for you. It’s called ShoutRoulette, and it bills itself as “the fastest, simplest way to yell at people you think are morons about the things you are right about.”

Will Oremus Will Oremus

Will Oremus is Slate's senior technology writer.

The premise is simple. You cannot freaking stand, say, Chipotle burritos. You know there must be imbeciles out there who, for unfathomable reasons of their own, actually like Chipotle burritos. ShoutRoulette promises to seamlessly connect you with them via video chat. Voilá! Now you can berate one another in real time. 

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The topic doesn't have to be food-related. The site will also pair you with wrongheaded fools who hold views opposite yours on anything from Big Bird to Lance Armstrong to climate change.

The site, which loosely parodies the video-chat site Chatroulette, is the brainchild of New York-based comedian Matt Klinman, who brought the idea to a “Comedy Hack Day” last month put on by author and comedian Baratunde Thurston. At the hackathon, Klinman got together with developers Steve Peek, Jeff Escalante, and Emin Israfil to turn the concept into a real thing. They built a basic version of ShoutRoulette in two days, and it took top prize, generating enough enthusiasm that they decided to keep working on it after the event.

A demo of the site met with wild applause at a New York Tech Meetup on Tuesday night. Klinman, a vehement critic of Chipotle burritos, exchanged vicious insults and ad hominem attacks at top volume with one of his developers, who swears by them. The result was fruitless yet oddly cathartic debate in which no one could hear, let alone understand, either side’s point of view.

“ShoutRoulette.com was built from the ground up to be a shouter’s paradise,” Klinman explained. “We coded the entire thing in upper-case letters.”

For those who want to use ShoutRoulette but are not yet sufficiently angry, the site offers a “Get Angry” page with links to partisan blogs like the Drudge Report, the Huffington Post, and AnnCoulter.com. Thus inspired, you can either create a new topic or choose one from a list of recent topics on the ShoutRoulette homepage. Next you take a stand—“yes” or “no”—and wait for someone else to arrive who holds the opposing view. (You can speed the process by soliciting disagreements via Twitter or Facebook.) Then the brawl begins.

Questions from the audience at Tuesday’s tech meetup came rapid-fire. Can you shout at each other in different languages? (Of course.) How will you keep the naked people out? (They won’t.) Are you guys from Brooklyn? (They are.)

The site’s functionality so far is limited. There’s no archive of past arguments, and no way to sort the topics on the homepage. But Escalante, one of the developers, tells me that more features will be forthcoming if it catches on. ShoutRoulette, he assured me, is really a vehicle for the promotion of world peace. “We’re changing the world one shout at a time.”

The site’s big challenge going forward, of course, will be to differentiate itself from the existing offerings on cable news.

Shoutroulette video chat

Screenshot / ShoutRoulette.com

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.