On Catroulette, a Brooklyn cat entertains Chatroulette

Duck, the cat belonging to music professionals Becca Laurie and Andy Silva, has attracted more than 70,000 visitors to a site filled with screens shots of her hanging out on Chatroulette.

Daniel Terdiman Former Senior Writer / News
Daniel Terdiman is a senior writer at CNET News covering Twitter, Net culture, and everything in between.
Daniel Terdiman
4 min read
On Catroulette, more than 70,000 people have seen Duck, a Brooklyn cat belonging to Becca Laurie and Andy Silva, hanging out on Chatroulette. This image of a kid on the other end of the camera cuddling his puppy as a greeting to the cat, is one of Laurie's favorite moments in the experiment. Catroulette

By now, just about everyone has heard of Chatroulette, the site where perfect strangers from anywhere in the world can interact with each other via Webcam. But how many people--outside of France and Quebec, at least--realized that in French, "chatroulette" means "catroulette?"

Becca Laurie and Andy Silva, two 24-year-old music industry professionals from Brooklyn did. And about a week and a half ago, the couple launched Catroulette: A site chock full of screen grabs of their cat Duck holding court on Chatroulette.

By now, having been called out on Perez Hilton's Twitter and on Boing Boing, more than 70,000 people have stopped by to see pictures of Duck making people smile, holding her own against dogs and even posing with the occasional other cat.

And for Laurie, who plays the role of Duck's spokesperson--it's hard to type accurately with paws, after all--doing Catroulette has become a way to enjoy Chatroulette without feeling personally exposed.

"Once we discovered Chatroulette, we were intrigued, but we didn't want to get in front of the camera ourselves," Laurie said. "Almost immediately, we made the connection--not only that chat equals cat in French [but that] since Duck entertains us every night,we thought we would see if she could entertain people on Chatroulette. And obviously, someone had to do it, and nobody had yet. Or at least nobody had compiled screen shots of their cat on Chatroulette on a Web site anywhere."

If you've spent any time on Chatroulette, you already know that it's a bazaar of very odd and usually very short glimpses into other people's lives. The site has gotten huge amounts of attention, and not just because many of the people on the other end of writer after writer's cameras are men behaving badly.

More often, though, what comes up when you click through to a new chat partner is someone sitting there, looking bleary-eyed and beyond bored, no doubt having sat in front of his or her computer for quite some time, robotically clicking "next," "next," next."

And for Laurie and Silva, that was what they saw when they first turned their Webcam on Duck. But almost immediately, they clicked through to someone who looked at what was coming through on their screen and was intrigued enough to stay connected long enough to figure out what they were looking at.

Not long after, Laurie said, she and Silva clicked through one of a kid who was behaving very oddly until he realized he was looking at a cat. And that's when he grabbed his laptop and moved over to where his puppy was sleeping and took a moment to cuddle with the dog to entertain Duck.

Indeed, for Laurie, the joy of putting Duck on camera is watching people's reactions. Of the many screen shots she's posted to Catroulette, two may best demonstrate the dynamic she and Silva see every night: In the first one, an extremely bored man in a Detroit Pistons hoodie looks on at a basically empty image from the other end of the camera. But then, seconds later, Duck walks into the picture and, in the second image, the man breaks out into a huge and surprised smile (see images below).



Using software called InstantShot on both a MacBook and a MacBook Pro, Laurie and Silva are able to automatically generate screen shots every 15 seconds. So during the one to two hours a night that Duck entertains the Chatroulette universe, they rarely have to be seen on camera themselves.

Duck will "notice people sometimes, especially if they're really loud, but she doesn't really try to interact with them," Laurie said. "We usually use the 'cat dancer,' a little feather thing attached to a string and a pole, with her while she's on Chatroulette. We try to stay out of the scope of the camera as much as possible, though you can see my arm in a few of the shots."

One feature of Chatroulette is a text chat box that allows participants to type greetings to their chat partners. Often someone will type in something nice about Duck, and in those instances, either Laurie or Silva may type back, "thanks!"

"But that's the extent" of their human-to-human interaction," she said. "We like to let Duck speak for herself."

One obvious thing Laurie and Silva had to do with Catroulette was to allow viewers to submit pictures of their own cats hanging out on Chatroulette. So far, though, despite the 70,000-plus visitors, they've received just six submissions. That may be because, for most people, it's hard to take a screen shot without disturbing their cat.

But there are definitely other felines on Chatroulette.

"We thought it would be cool to have other cats involved as well," she said. "The thought of hundreds of cats just hanging out on Chatroulette is pretty awesome. And nice antitode [and] palate cleanser to some of the other stuff" on the site.

And though it's rare, Duck has encountered another cat on the other end of the camera.

"That happened [Tuesday night] for the first time," Laurie said. "It was a girl with a cat. But still, a cat. [The girl] was very excited. She stuck around for about two minutes. [The cats] were pretty disinterested in each other, so they were just being cats, basically."

But it's moments like that that make the Catroulette experiment gratifying for the Brooklyn couple.

"So far [the best thing has] been seeing and hearing others' reactions to Duck," Laurie said. "It's a nice combination of people being caught off guard and happy. Which is nice to come home to at the end of the day."