Way back in the pre-net days of the eighties there was a controversial telephone service here in Sweden called hotline. You phoned a number and could talk to whoever else was there; purely random communication. Ideally you could meet someone new and chat about important world issues but there are no prizes for guessing what it was mostly used for. In the end the service was abandoned. There are certainly thousands of services like this around the world today though they're not free.
Now there's an updated video version of this called ChatRoulette where you just turn on your webcam and click to make video contact with someone somewhere. It's totally anonymous, you've no idea who you're watching and can never find them again. You can text chat with whoever turns up or even use voice. If you don't like what you see just click to the next person. You can't go back to anyone or save anyone. You just sit there looking at people looking at you.
There's always something fascinating about random events. We love wheel of fortune games and the suspense involved in not knowing what will happen next. This service demands absolutely nothing of you and offers an endless gallery of people; friendly, eccentric, funny, seriously weird, exhibitionist and some downright sick. No responsibility and total anonymity. Attractive? You bet.
This is probably the direct opposite of what the social web is all about; no collaboration, no connections, no responsibility, very little meaningful interaction. Andy Warhol's fifteen minutes of fame condensed down to 15 seconds as we parade ourselves in front of our webcams. No-one cares who you are or what you do, you're just part of the ultimate peepshow. Probably very little relevance to e-learning but part of today's media landscape.
Read more about ChatRoulette in an article from New York Magazine, The Human Shuffle and also on Mashable. There's even a study of the phenomenon, ChatRoulette - an initial survey, that calls it rather nicely a "probabilistic community shaped by a platform which mediates the encounters between its users by eliminating lasting connections between them."