On Tuesday, Sean Parker (you know, the infamous billionaire who JT played in The Social Network) and Shawn Fanning, both co-founders of Napster, launched Airtime, a video chat service that lets users connect semi-randomly with friends, random strangers, or anyone they have something in common with, be it a favorite band, a hometown, a mutual friend, or an alma mater.
Most people are calling Airtime "Chatroulette without dicks," and while that's certainly an apt description — Airtime runs through Facebook (and, somewhat creepily, reserves the right to record your conversations), so people are less likely to whip their junk out — it's more than that: people are already using the site to make real personal and professional connections.
I hopped on the site a few days ago at the office to check it out. Here's how it works: you connect with people anonymously, but you can add them to a "buddy list" of sorts if you hit it off. If you never want to see them again, "Next" them and go on your way. You can also watch YouTube videos together, play each other music, and leave video voicemails for your friends, which is a fun extra.
I had fifteen friends in common with the first person I connected to, Eliot Tomaeno, who does PR for tech companies and told me he was a huge fan of the site. "I've run into about 10 people I already know, and 16 others that I am now connected with — I've met 4 cool startup CEOs that need PR," he said. We chatted about our mutual friends for a bit, and then went our separate ways. Next, I connected with a curatorial fellow at Eyebeam Art & Technology center who told me she used to work at Gawker. When I asked what her name was, she Nexted me! I was kind of offended.
If I clicked "Just friends" or "Friends of Friends" I connected to the few people I knew who were already using the site, like Gizmodo's Mat Honan, or my friend Myles. As you can see in the photo below, we couldn't stop laughing about the inherent silliness of Airtime.
But is it so silly? A viral video editor I spoke with said he loved how the site helped him share his work on a more widespread level. A documentary filmmaker told me that he met the co-founder of the Tribeca Film Festival. The CEO of an adtech startup said he was able to do more networking via Airtime than he usually could in an entire month. "I already have a guy coming in for a job interview on Thursday," he told me.
Most people seemed more psyched about the possibility for professional connections than personal ones, although I did talk to two 22-year-olds studying in Munich who said there were "lots of guys" on the site, an ITP graduate who said he met someone who told him where he could find great improv classes, and one dude who told me he hoped to use the site for "speed dating." It was easy to meet like-minded folks yesterday, though, because the majority of users were part of the tech/startup world — or they were reporters writing stories on Airtime, like myself. "How many people on here do you think are journalists trying to file?" one asked me. Touché.
Everyone agreed that it would be interesting to see what types of people will be using the site in a month or a year. Will it devolve, like Chatroulette did, into a free-for-all freakfest? Or will we all meet our future bosses and spouses via semi-anonymous videochat?