Dani Hutton gazes at the computer she uses to interact with peers on ICanHazChat. (Jenny Sokolova/ Xpress Magazine)
Dani Hutton gazes at the computer she uses to interact with peers on ICanHazChat. (Jenny Sokolova/ Xpress Magazine)

What’s open on your computer screen at this moment?

Maybe there is a Word document with nothing but a rough attempt at an essay waiting for you behind the full-screen Netflix tab on Chrome. Or maybe you have got Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit open, constantly rotating through the tabs.

So, all “normal” things by your estimation, right? I have the same things open too. And then there’s the fourth tab, containing fifteen webcam slots and approximately one hundred fifty plus people lurking and discussing everything from whatever new mixtape is dropping to their porn preferences in a text chat next to these cams.

But what is going on in those fifteen cam slots? There is topless girl cooking, the resident hip-hop head well into his usual day-drinking, a bearded man doing what can only be some sort of weird dance ritual in the shower, and a couple cuddling and engaging in a conversation with people admiring them. Then, because it is the internet, there is always a penis (or in this case, four).

“Is she into some weird voyeurism porn site?” you are probably asking yourself right about now. Not entirely. This just happens to be an average afternoon in just one of the many rooms hosted on the video chat site ICanHazChat.

ICanHazChat came about as the brainchild of several regular users of the Gonewild subreddit, following the inevitable monetization of TinyChat, a service in which users are able to open up a room and invite others to join a video chat.

The site, in its current format, is a cross between group video chats and a Reddit-style community. Like Reddit itself, where a user can create a subreddit in minute for virtually any topic under the sun, ICHC users can create their own rooms, choose moderators, and ban rude or disruptive users. The site has even instituted its own ‘karma’ system, similar to Reddit’s—you gain karma by camming and participating in the chat. Much like Reddit’s system, the karma is nothing but imaginary internet points, but a fun feature regardless.

As the site features rooms that are rated both ‘15+’ for the average user, and ‘18+,’ for rooms with a more adult theme, site admins have created an age-checking process to minimize underage camming.

Funplay and Rhenium are just two of the age-checkers in chat, who also happen to be married.

“I ran across a post on /r/sex about a couple that just had sex on cam for a bunch of other people and thought it was great,” Funplay says, who is coming up on his second year anniversary of being in chat. He ended up lurking for several weeks before bringing the idea up to his wife, who was receptive to the idea.

Since joining chat, they have become a familiar pair in the community, moving from being normal users to ‘self-mods’ (users who can mod up at will and help to moderate the chat.) Eventually, they moved up to being age-checkers along with self-mod duties.

“I’m not sure exactly by who or why we were nominated, but we apparently earned a level of trust with the site moderators and other age-checkers for them to do so,” Funplay says of their recent duties. As age-checkers, they are responsible for not only checking potentially underage chatters in the GW room, but on all rooms in the site.

In their capacity as age-checkers, Funplay and Rhenium tend to end up visiting several other rooms on the site to check on camera reports—although they consider the GW room to be home base for them.

The room also employs a bot to assist with moderating when there aren’t many active moderators available. ‘Modbot,’ along with Triviabot and DjBot are all the creation of Marc, one of the site moderators who has found himself wandering into the site like so many others, and staying, to eventually become an integral part of the community.

“Modbot took a lot of work,” Marc says of the bot which is currently running in four different rooms. Estimating that about eighty or more hours went into the creation of the bots, Modbot works via a combination of stats and trigger words in the room its employed in.

To create an atmosphere that’s welcoming to all (or as much as can be, considering the content of the room), Modbot has an ‘auto-silence’ feature. Words that can be considered offensive, via being racist, homophobic, etc. are cleared from the screen by the bot and the user silenced for thirty seconds, in which anything they say in chat will not be sent through for other people to see.

Users find themselves forming bonds and discussing common interests beyond sex and voyeurism. The chatters come from all walks of life. There are professional therapists, techies and tattoo artists. Students and housewives are also counted among the numerous users to pass through the room on a daily basis.

People from multiple walks of life come together over common interests and form lasting friendships. Two users, yieldtomytemptation and nighttrain_jambalaya are just one of the relationships formed from ICHC.

“I think I was in chat for just over a year, and he was in for about eight months when we first met,” says yieldtomytemptation, of her now-fiance. The pair bonded over shared interests and eventually made the decision to meet in person.

“I was excited more than anything, but nervous that she would realize what a dork I really am,” nighttrain_jambalaya said. Luckily, for him, the ‘dorkiness’ was part of the appeal for the couple who met in October of 2012 and were dating by January the next year. Both of them had met and been intimate with others in the past, which has come up in their relationship.

“I think the hardest part is the fact that we know who we’ve been with and who we talked to. It brings feelings of jealousy sometimes when it comes up,”yieldtomytemptaion says. “The easiest is being able to be frank with each other. I don’t think I was like that before chat.”

While not all couples have a success story like the one shared between these two, this room alone has resulted in multiple relationships and marriages.

So, after all of this, there’s the question that comes to mind: Why? Why do you hang around this room and chat with virtual strangers from around the world, most of whom are lurkers that come in expecting to see naked women?

You know, sometimes I ask myself that same question. And then a user that I’ve connected with and come to appreciate as an amazing person comes in, and they’re genuinely excited to see me. That’s why I come back to the room on a regular basis.

I came in on a whim through Reddit and I lurked, unsure about the whole experience. Then I swallowed the qualms I had and never looked back. I’ve been a part of this community for a year and a half at this point, and I don’t see myself leaving any time soon. I love the community and the people I’ve met in the room. I’ve bonded, I’ve become a self-mod, and enjoy hanging out and joking with everyone.

Interacting with me in person leads to me being seen as this ‘quiet’ type, mainly because I do not often speak up around people I am not familiar with, because I feel uncomfortable and consistently judged for no apparent reason. In this room? I can open up, I’m free to strike up a conversation or jump into an existing one, without feeling as if I’ll be ignored. I’ll come in with some comment or joke ready, and I’m happy. There’s people that share my common interests, people I find attractive and who find me attractive. There are people in here I can open up to and share things with that I’m not even comfortable sharing with my closest friends.

It is not just all purely online contact either. Users form friendships and eventually meet in real life, both for sexual and non-sexual reasons. I have met a number of users and have enjoyed every experience. I have drank with them, wandered around the city with them,  and they have pitched in to help me with photo projects. During my first meeting with one of my favorite chatters from the site? I ended up nearly choking during lunch—it has developed into an inside joke between us.

You know how people will say ‘just imagine them naked,’ to someone who is nervous of speaking in front of crowds? As it turns out, it actually is a hell of a lot easier to relax and joke with someone when you have seen their butt.

It is a weird thing to begin with, but even weirder to open up to the world at large and write this. When I do bring it up, I am drunk about seventy-five percent of the time, and terrified as a result. You know what happens? People are receptive to the idea. It can be weird, and when you openly acknowledge that, it takes most of the pressure off the situation. It becomes entertaining, and then you move on. Suddenly, you’re not stepping around the topic with these friends you spend a lot of time with. You can simply say “Yes, so-and-so from chat mentioned that too…,” and it is okay. They may not join the site or even understand why you do it, but generally speaking people will not be rude about it or judge you.

The community is an amazing place, filled with people from all walks of life.. If you see it from the outside, you see a bunch of perverts. Yeah, maybe by normal estimates it is perverted. For people in this community? For whatever reason, we do not like wearing pants, or enjoy being watched and interacting with people as we go about our lives, whether it be the mundane, everyday activities or the more explicit moments in our lives.

Your weird is our normal, and it is all relative.