He has a hard time making eye contact and learned English by spending thousands of hours chatting online, but he says that his passion is talking with people and “exploring other cultures.”Selling souvenirs to foreign tourists was an ideal job for Ternovskiy.

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“The Daily Show” ’s Jon Stewart attempted to take his pants off for the NBC anchor Brian Williams while Chatrouletting on the air.

A visit to Chatroulette usually begins with a few rushed clicks of the “Next” button, either out of a sense of danger—do you really want to engage with that empty-eyed guy lounging in bed?

Brooklyn bars throw Chatroulette parties, an indie band has used the site to début an album, and the Texas attorney general has warned parents to keep their children far, far away.

Hundreds of articles and blog posts have asked whether Chatroulette is a fad or a good investment, and if it will change Internet culture forever.

It is an upscale outfit owned by Ternovskiy’s uncle Sasha, who hired his nephew to work there as a salesman during the summer of 2008, five days a week, eleven hours a day.

Ternovskiy was supposed to show foreign tourists around the shop, pulling various nesting dolls, lacquered boxes, and kitschy Soviet paraphernalia from the bright vitrines.

The point is to introduce you to people you’d never otherwise meet and will never see again—the dancing Korean girls, the leopard-printed Catman, the naked man in Gdansk.

More than a million people, most of them from the United States, clog Chatroulette’s servers daily.

A few months later, it was one of the most talked-about social-networking sites in the world. When you log on to Chatroulette.com, you see a sparse white window with two boxes.

One box shows your own image, courtesy of your Webcam; the other is for the face of what the site calls, somewhat ambiguously, a “partner.” When Partner appears, you can stay and talk using your voice or your keyboard, or you can click “Next,” which whips you on to someone new.

There are some unsavory things on Chatroulette: copulating couples, masturbators, a man who has hanged himself (it’s fake). (Within twenty-four hours, Ternovskiy made it vastly easier for the site to cut off offensive users.) But the You Tube videos that people have recorded of their trips through the Chatroulette vortex also show a lot of joy.