Airtime: Napster Founders Reunite to Launch Video Chat Service That Links to Facebook


The first thing you notice is the list of cross-referenced interests. The service matches the Facebook interests or "Likes" of both callers. For instance, Sean and the Airtime employee both are interested in Airtime. Go figure!

Below that is a list of videos, which Sean has recently shared on Facebook. As soon as he clicks one of them -- one of the EHarmony Loves Cats Song -- it begins playing in his video box. While the video plays, you can still see the other's video feed and their reaction to the video (which happens to be hilarious). You can add any YouTube video link and watch it right in the player, right alongside whomever you are chatting with.

But Airtime is more than just an advanced web-based video chatting service. It's a video-based extension of Facebook and it encourages spontaneous video interaction and meeting new people. While comparisons will be made to Chatroulette, the controversial website that pairs strangers for webcam conversations, Airtime lets you specify if you're willing to speak to people with whom you aren't directly friends. It also taps right into Facebook, so people aren't entirely anonymous.

You can then click a "Next" button when you're done with a call and be matched with a friend of a friend who shares some of the same Facebook interests as you. "Natural experiences is what we are interested in," Fanning says. "It's weird how impersonal the Internet has become."

But, of course, that's where Airtime takes the biggest risk. Yet Parker and Fanning are ready to talk safety and privacy. "Safety is beyond important to us. We have a huge team for manually monitoring," Parker explains. Additionally, they have built special software tools which will look for the absence of a face or, more simply, monitor for nudity. "Within in seconds we will be able to capture and remove the user," he says. Additionally, since Airtime requires you to share your identity via Facebook, the two expect there to be less profanity and abuse. There is also an "applause" button, which will increase people's status levels and encourages good behavior.

Parker and Fanning finally open up that laptop to the rest of the world this morning. At a swanky launch event in New York City, with celebrities like Snoop Dog and Martha Stewart, Airtime is launching for all to use. By the end of the day, everyone will be able to log in with their Facebook account on any computer that has a browser. However, because the video relies on Flash it won't work on the iPad or iPhone; apps for those platforms and others will come soon. The service is free, but the founders plan to monetize it with advertising and perhaps a virtual goods model.

Competitors are already pointing to those shortcomings of the service. "Airtime will offer a matching-like service driving people to meet like-minded people outside their social graph," ooVoo CEO, Yuval Baharav, said. "Their communication will be based on one-on-one video, which is a must in today's age. ooVoo is the exact opposite: it is about high-quality group video chat with your friends across all social media and across all devices."

Parker remarks near the end of the conversation that he and Fanning are well aware that Airtime isn't the first video chatting service to have some social features, but says that sometimes it's the last to market that wins. He adds, "Facebook wasn't the first social network."

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