American entrepreneur Sean Parker launched his latest project, “Airtime”, this week in New York. This project marks his reunion with Shawn Fanning. The duo, of Napster fame, has been creating and investing in various online start-ups individually since its shutdown, with varying degrees of success (Sean, of course, found a winner in Facebook).
With this video-communication site (which can be found here), the two hope to recreate the same Napster magic which propelled them to global fame. The launch was star studded, with live appearances from celebrities such as Jim Carrey, talk show host Jimmy Fallon and TV star Joel McHale. Rapper Snoop Dogg and actress Olivia Munn were represented via online chats. The reception was lukewarm, with many criticizing the stability of the service as technical glitches marred the presentation time and again.
Airtime, a video-communication service at its core, is being positioned as a social network to “re-humanize” the internet, and “make it more fun”. The service allows users to communicate with their online friends, friends-of-friends, and even people outside of their circles (via Facebook, to which it is connected). And herein lies the difference with other anonymous video chat services like Chatroulette and Omegle – this is not completely random. Airtime analyzes its users’ Facebook profiles, stores their ‘likes’, and thus, manages to throw two people into a video chat who have something in common, which allows them to talk about their shared interests.
It is important to note that the topics that it stores as your fields of interest can be edited to suit your preferences. The working principle is fairly simple: when you log-in to Airtime.com, you see two windows – one comprising friends whom you can presently talk to, and one of the topics that you might want to talk about. The ‘friends’ window is fairly straightforward. In the ‘interests’ section, you can select a topic, and you will be connected to someone who shares that interest with you. Ditto for geographic location – you can chat with people in your current area.
The central idea is to make anonymous interactions more meaningful, and mimic real-life encounters with people of similar interests. With many questioning its usefulness, the creators point out that “the more people use it, the more useful it becomes”. They’ve also promised to weed out the bad sections of ‘performers’ which plague other anonymous communication sites. In a market where many other video-chat services are available, including big-name offerings such as Microsoft’s Skype and Google’s Hangout, it will be interesting to see if Airtime can carve out a niche for itself with its intelligent profile analysis techniques and promised security features.
For Indian users, the biggest concern would be the minimum bandwidth requirement of 1.5Mbps. What is clear though is that it has got itself a more than fair jump-start, by being able to leverage Facebook’s user community (approx. 950 million) as its potential user base.