Social Media

This Facebook Messenger Bot Connects You To A Total Stranger

Chatible transforms the messaging service into a modern-day ICQ

Social Media
Photo Illustration: Diana Quach
Jun 20, 2016 at 6:28 PM ET

If you’re old enough to remember the internet in the late ’90s, you’ll also remember the glory days of chat rooms and instant messaging—not only with friends, but also strangers scattered across the globe. Now, a new Facebook Messenger bot attempts to recreate that stranger-induced high with Chatible, which facilitates a random conversation between anonymous parties.

Like most chatbots, a big part of Chatible’s appeal is that it’s already incorporated into a platform you already know. Using Chatible is as simple as messaging the bot, waiting for it to reply with a button that will match you with an anonymous chatter and facilitate the conversation. When you’re sick of talking to a random, you simply hit the like button, which functions as the chat equivalent of hanging up a phone. Its like ICQ and Chatroulette hooked up and had an IM baby.

What’s noteworthy about Chatible and other similar apps is the way it signals our shifting, yet still static notions of what it means to be “connected.” When instant messaging took off for the more mainstream computer user in the 1990s, the very wonderment of dialing up to ICQ or AIM was just that you could find your friend across town online, but more excitingly, you could get chatty with a mind-boggling array of total strangers around the world in rooms, private or public.

Unless you were on a listserv, that was as good as a social network as we knew it. And with chatting, the option for anonymity and fun screennames was key, moreso because every conversation kicked off with a query of “age/sex/location?” but often devolved so easily into “wanna cyber?” or worse. Being masked was critical armor to navigate the landscape.

So it’s no surprise that apps that let you talk with total strangers reignite the appeal of the early internet. Some of these apps let you chat with strangers based on interests, or indicate some cursory biographical points up front, but the majority, like Chatible, appear to prefer the stranger toss-up. Similarly, Sweden introduced a hotline where anyone could call and speak with a random Swede, which turned out to be delightfully weird.

Initial users report nothing but pleasantness with Chatible so far, but because the app debuted on Product Hunt means that its early users are more connected than they might’ve guessed. Just look at this sample conversation for proof:

But otherwise, it appears to be filling a void. While it’s not a mirror return to the early days of instant messaging, it’s clear that blowing off steam with randoms in an environment that feels like an untrackable and totally private still holds a certain appeal for people (even if it’s just a mirage).