The Chatroulette web site was created by Andrey Ternovskiy, a 17-year-old high school student in Moscow, Russia. Ternovskiy says the concept arose from video chats he used to have with friends on Skype, and that he wrote the first version of Chatroulette in "two days and two nights".Ternovskiy chose the name "Chatroulette" after watching The Deer Hunter, a 1978 film set in the Vietnam War in which prisoners of war are forced to play Russian roulette.
In early November 2009, shortly after the site launched, it had 500 visitors per day. One month later there were 50,000. The site has been featured in The New York Times, The New Yorker, New York magazine, and on Good Morning America, Newsnight in the United Kingdom, Tosh and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. In February 2010, there were about 35,000 people on Chatroulette at any given time. Around the beginning of March, Ternovskiy estimated the site to have around 1.5 million users, approximately 33% of them from the United States and 5% from Germany.
An early growth phase was funded by a $10,000 investment from Ternovskiy's parents which he soon paid back. As of March 2010, Ternovskiy was running the site from his childhood bedroom, assisted by four programmers who were working remotely, and the site was supported through advertising links to an online dating service.
According to one informal study published in March 2010, nearly half of all Chatroulette spins connected a user with someone in the USA, while the next most likely country was France with 15%. On average in sessions showing a single person, 89% of these were male and 11% were female. 8% of spins showed multiple people behind the camera. 1 in 3 females appeared as such a group. That number is 1 in 12 for males. A user was more likely to encounter a webcam featuring no person at all than one featuring a sole female. 1 in 8 spins yielded possibly objectionable content. A user was twice as likely to encounter a sign requesting female nudity than to encounter actual female nudity.
The website uses Adobe Flash to display video and access the user's webcam. Flash's peer-to-peer network capabilities (via RTMFP) allow almost all video and audio streams to travel directly between user computers, without using server bandwidth. However, certain combinations of routers will not allow UDP traffic to flow between them, and then it is necessary to fall back to RTMP.