It might be easy to scoff at Airtime; the much-hyped video networking startup launched Tuesday by Internet entrepreneurs Sean Parker and Shawn Fanning. With funding in the neighbourhood of $33 million, and a celebrity-studded launch event featuring Jim Carrey, Alicia Keys, Snoop Dogg and more, many in the tech community seemed to take pleasure in watching the product demo devolve into a glitch-filled fiasco.
Parker and Fanning, of course are no strangers to tech startups having been involved with high profile Internet properties through the years, beginning together with the launch of Napster in 1999, then Parker with Facebook and Spotify; and Fanning with Path.com.
What is Airtime?
Airtime is a video networking platform that leverages your Facebook profile allowing you to chat with your existing friends (or friends of friends) or helps you connect with strangers based on location or common interests. If you’ve been on Facebook for any length of time (5 years for me), you may be surprised to see some of your past interests appear, but the Airtime interface allows you to easily delete or add interests.
Sounds like Chatroulette…
Many have compared Airtime to Chatroulette (or Stickam, Omegle and a dozen others), the video chat site that rose to notoriety in early 2012 thanks to the frequent full-frontal flashing of its anonymous users. In the case of Airtime, that anonymity is gone thanks to the connection to the real user’s Facebook profile. As Parker explained at the launch, “the system knows who you are.”
Frictionless Video Chat
Airtime does offer a very easy setup; all you need is a Facebook account and a webcam. Once you’ve connected it to your Facebook profile all you need to do is to ‘allow’ Flash to access your webcam and microphone. Yes, I said Flash… you can’t use Airtime on an iOS device for the time being.
The interface consists of your video window and a large ‘Talk to Someone’ button. You can contact one of your existing friends to begin a conversation or use of the filters to chat with someone nearby, with common interests or a friend of a friend. Or you can turn them all off and take a chance on a total stranger.
The first million Airtime users get a founders badge and the platform’s reputation management system is built on points received during conversations with strangers. A user can receive an applause badge when they receive a full applause meter, so work on your juggling skills.
Will Airtime succeed?
While I am definitely not a big fan of video chat (or phone calls for that matter), I do know there are plenty of people that are. However, there are also plenty of other options available for video chat with existing friends and family including Facetime, Skype and Google Hangouts. As well there are other options available to the more adventurous people that are looking to meet and get to know new people.
Time will tell, but right now I don’t see where Airtime fits within the video chat options. It’s possible that its tight integration with Facebook and ease of use will be the differentiator.