Monkey is a hip new app — you can tell it’s hip because it has an emoji for a logo. The app’s teenage creators say the video chat app is essentially “Chatroulette, without the pervs.” Keeping that in mind, I created a Monkey account of my own and got ready to chat with some cool strangers. My very first connection had obscured his phone’s camera so I couldn’t see anything, and all I could hear was his repeated whisper from off-screen: “Hey come suck my pussy.”
Monkey was created by 16-year-old Australian high school dropout Ben Pasternak and fellow dropout Isaiah Turner. The pair were recently profiled in The New Yorker, and they sound, well, insufferable. Their app, which has earned them props from Apple’s Tim Cook, already has 50,000 users, and Pasternak and Turner are reveling in success and flaunting wealth. What’s enabling them? What makes Monkey so popular?
The integration with Snapchat is probably a plus. If two people are enjoying their chat, they can become friends on the wildly popular photo messaging app with just a mutual press of a button in Monkey. The way that Monkey pairs people up to chat in the first place is somewhat novel as well. All you see at first is a potential chatting buddy’s age and their country from which they’re chatting. Based on this alone, you both need to hit accept the invite to start chatting. Then, once you’re connected, a countdown clock starts. After ten seconds, if both participants haven’t hit the button to add more time to the conversation, it ends. You have to mutually opt-in to a chat, in other words, rather than opting-out like with Chatroulette.
In practice, this can be a hassle. A handful of my conversations ended abruptly, and I couldn’t tell if it was because the person I was chatting with had forgotten to add time, or if they were simply done talking to me, and were using the app’s signature feature to ghost.
My second chat on Monkey didn’t go much better than my first. The app told me that I was about to meet a 23-year-old girl — which, based on my short time with the app, seemed like a rarity. I was mostly being offered up a roster of dudes. However, instead of the 23-year-old American girl, my phone’s screen suddenly filled with two redheads who looked like budget Rupert Grints. They weren’t looking at the camera, but I only got to observe them for a second before the phone turned to show an unflattering angle of some portly guy with bad skin. “Hey! You’ve never seen a white dude before you fucking—“ the guy started yelling, before Monkey’s time-limit cut our conversation short.
The first person I actually talked to on Monkey assured me this was all normal. “You’ll be seeing a lot of private parts,” Al, a 24-year-old student in London, explained. When I told Al that I was a reporter trying to get a feel for Monkey, he was happy to tell me all about it, saying that he’d met some pretty interesting people in addition to all the literal and figurative dicks.
“I think there is an interesting element to meeting someone from around the world,” Al said. “We’ve never been more connected than this.”
Al had been with Monkey for awhile. He explained that he had gotten to know Monkey’s founder, Ben Pasternak, through Snapchat, back before he “got too famous for me.” Pasternak was fishing for feedback about Monkey, and Al gave him some gentle criticism about the amount of genitalia he was seeing. Monkey has since added a little policeman emoji in the upper corner of the chat screen, which can be used to easily report and block inappropriate monkey business.
It’s probably worth noting, though, that Monkey’s end user agreement, a short paragraph found in the app’s “legal” section, has multiple grammatical errors in it, and whoever wrote it just couldn’t figure out subject-verb agreement.
Jay, a 29-year-old from Bridgeport, Connecticut, was also just getting the hang of Monkey when we matched up, and he thought it was “pretty cool.” Jay explained that he’d started using the app because he’d gotten a text saying he should. Monkey allows users to send text invites to their friends, but Jay said he didn’t know the number that had texted him. Props to Jay, I guess, for getting a mystery text telling him to use an app he’d never heard of and just going for it.
Monkey is not for me. I say that not just because I don’t necessarily want to risk seeing weird dicks in order to chat with some randos, but because the app is clearly not meant for me. Monkey’s emoji-heavy aesthetic and integration with Snapchat suggest a younger target audience. I have a hunch that if I’d said my age was 16 instead of 26, I would’ve had a lot more chat options.
Maybe that’s what was missing. Maybe teens are better able to balance treating the experience like a joke while also being open to a sincere interaction than I am. To me, Monkey takes the unsavory awkwardness of Chatroulette and mixes it with the flash-in-the-pan hype of Yo. I’d rather not be a weird, creepy monkey’s uncle.