When Sean Parker and Shawn Fanning first teamed up in the late 1990s, they changed the way people share and discover music, with Napster. They’re hoping to be similarly disruptive with their new startup, Airtime, which lets users conduct video chats with Facebook friends and like-minded strangers over the Web. Parker and Fanning, who themselves met in an online chat room, unveiled the service Tuesday at a New York event that included celebrity guests and technical glitches, as several attempts at Airtime calls failed in front of the crowd.
Airtime, which requires users to have a Facebook account and a computer with a webcam, has long been in the works, with little known about it previously beyond that it would be a social video company. Though it may sound a lot like the online video chat service Chatroulette, which went viral in 2010 but has since stagnated, the serendipity built into Airtime is more controlled, since you’re matched up with strangers according to shared interests and location (and users who are under 18 are only matched with each other). The site also lets you “watch” YouTube videos with chat partners, and the company says it will soon add additional ways to share media. The company’s founders are betting that this approach will bring in new users in an already crowded online video space, which includes services like Skype, Hangouts on Google+, and Ustream, and keep them coming back. (more on MIT Technology Review)
The big idea
In a hope to restore “surprise and serendipity in the Internet,” Sean Parker co-founded Airtime because he felt that the current repertoire of social web experiences were ‘boring.’ Parker does have a point on this one since mosts social networks like Facebook actually prevents you from meeting someone new. The ability to pair video chat partners with shared interests and age group, and watch Youtube with your chat partner are the latest new features. Will these features be revolutionary enough to combat services like Skype and Google + Hangouts? For now the majority of users are male with start-up backgrounds and it can be a serendipitous place to network with entrepreneur super stars, like the Zuck.