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Swaine's Flames: Variations on a Meme

Michael Swaine is a senior contributing editor to Dr. Dobb's and editor of PragPub.

Web technologies like Facebook and Twitter go through stages as they mature. Okay, maybe "mature" is not the word I want. "As they age."

So isn't it reasonable to assume that Chatroulette will go through similar stages? You know about Chatroulette, right? It takes more time to explain it than for you to follow the link, but for those who like some telling along with their showing, it's a website that connects you via webcam with random strangers. Who then either disgust you or reject you. It's really popular. Although your experience may be different from mine. Anyway, I think that the Chatroulette phenomenon is bound to evolve, and I'm betting that the next stage will be Themed Chatroulette. Rather than seeing the same random people everybody else sees doing the same random things, you'll customize your random selection by keying in a theme or phrase. That's not far-fetched; even an iPod Shuffle can provide degrees of randomness. So let's see how this might play out.

As our example theme, I choose "What is cloud computing?" Since this is a text-only article, you'll have to imagine the video. And since we don't yet have Themed Chatroulette, there isn't anything to describe, so I'll have to make it up. What I'll do is, I'll piece it together from found video on the web. That ought to produce a fair test of my theory. Or whatever it is we're doing here. Anyway, here we go.

You click "New game."

You see some guy with a Giant Pac-Man hanging over his head: "Cloud computing is a bit like Liquid Paper."

You click "Next." This is the main attraction of Chatroulette, it seems to me, the ability to dismiss annoying people with the click of a button.

You see Larry Ellison waving his hands and ranting: "What is cloud computing? Take Microsoft Word, change 'internet' to 'cloud', give it back to these nitwits on Sand Hill Road...."

You click "Next." Chatroulette presents you with plenty of annoying people to feed your need to click them away.

You see some guy with a beard thrusting his face into the camera: "You've got Cloud A and you've got Cloud B and there's storms and rain. And then lightning goes between the clouds. Kshhh! And in that bolt of lightning you get one tera peta flops of information!"

You click "Next." Sometimes the people are scary.

You see Rafe Needleman wearing a namebadge so you know who he is: "Yeah, in an airplane. That's cloud computing."

You click "Next."

You see Larry Ellison waving an Evian bottle: "Our industry is so bizarre. You just change a term and they think you've invented technology."

You click "Next."

You see a random rock star: "You're tryin' to trick me. That's one of those catch questions."

You click "Next."

You see an IT guy looking mystified: "I have no idea. That's why I'm asking Wikipedia."

You ask yourself why you're doing this. You click "Next."

You see a gentleman of the redneck persuasion: "It's like a angelic kinda -- thing. It's a experience. It's spirichal."

You click "Next" and say, amen, brother.

You see a folk singer: "LANs and WANs and endless cords...."

You click "Next."

You see Larry Ellison leaning into the camera: "...SalesForce became cloud computing for the same reason Chanel last year was fuschia, this year it's puce."

You click "Next."

You see Matt Mullenweg: "It should be like Care Bears. Perfect. Happy."

You know Matt Mullenweg is somebody, except you don't remember offhand just what he did to get marginally famous. You wait to see if he will elaborate. He doesn't. You click "Next."

You see Adolph Hitler surrounded by his senior officers: "You n00bs! You fell for a bunch of marketing and slick glossies from some tradeshow booth bimbo! You outsourced all our data to a Cloud Computing provider that hosts in Leningrad?"

That one seems staged. You click "Next."

You see Larry Ellison sniffing glue: "Yeah, 'Let's call that cloud.' Sure beats innovation."

You click "Next."

You see Marc Benioff of SalesForce smirking: "...and if you can understand that then you'll know why cloud computing is what it is."

You've had enough. You disconnect.

Well, I think we've all learned something from that experiment.

(All of these snippets can be found, word-for-word, by looking for "cloud computing" on YouTube. Pretty nearly, anyway. The part about Larry Ellison sniffing glue is a total lie.)

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