Last night I had a chance to spend a some quality time with Sean Fanning and Sean Parker’s new app, Airtime which has been getting a lot of buzz the past few days since it launched.
For those of you who don’t know, Airtime is an easy to use video chat client that runs right in your browser and focuses on people discovery. Kind of like Chat Roulette without the creeps (for now).
The basic premise is this. You connect your Facebook account and log on. On one half of the screen you see yourself on your webcam and you have some options. If any of your other Facebook friends are online you can request a video chat using Airtime and if they accept – they just show up on your screen and you’re off and running. No plugins, no software to install. It really is dead simple.
But the people discovery part of this is where things get really really interesting. You can simply hit a button that says ‘Talk to Someone’ and Airtime’s algorithms will read your Facebook profile to discover your interest and ‘likes’, and use that information to pair you with another random person for a video chat. This all happens in a second or two and the chat begins. You’ll see the other person on the right hand side of your screen and some floating boxes appear in the center to let you know what interests you have in common, which can serve as a conversation starter. Pretty cool stuff.
There is also a gamification layer to Airtime which I haven’t quite figured out. If you like the interaction you’re having, you can give the person on the other end points via the star button in the middle of the screen which will unlock special features or achievements down the road I’m assuming. What those are, no one knows.
Safety is understandably a big concern for Airtime, especially after the way ChatRoulette descended into the gutter. Airtime uses special face recognition tech to make sure that what’s on screen is a person and not, well….anything else. There is also a one-strike and you’re out policy if you are flagged for inappropriate behavior or content. Also, even though Airtime uses your Facebook data to pair you with someone with similar interests, you don’t see each other’s names or any personal info unless you are Facebook friends or both approve that information to be shared via Airtime.
So last night I spent about an hour surfing from person to person to see how the system works, and really figure out if there’s something here. Here are my initial impressions:
I had about 8 interactions with people from across the US. From Maine to San Fransicso, including a great conversation with some of the writers for the website ‘Funny Or Die.’
The people that I was paired with were all male, and 100% of them worked for either a marketing agency or a tech startup. Those of us in the tech space seem to come running every time there’s a new social network of piece of tech to try out.
Conversations were actually pretty decent but very geek oriented. The common interest buckets that popped up definitely gave us a starting point for something to talk about. I spoke with a bunch of Tom Waits fans as well one person who also was a reader of my friend Erkia’s blog, Redhead Writing. Most conversations (for me anyway) were about 5 minutes long before moving on and I had zero issues with crazies.
Will Airtime be the next big thing? I’m not sure yet, because it’s going to have to appeal to people who are not just marketers, early adopters, or in the tech space… but I like the way it feels so far. Gary V was saying that this feels like Twitter did in 2006 because it was a set of early adopters who are going to figure out how to use this in ways that Parker and Fanning never anticipated. Twitter was about sharing what you’re doing and small updates with s a small network via mobile, but then turned into a news breaking, link sharing, connecting machine. The same could happen with Airtime but we’re just going to have to play and watch to see if and how the community builds.
I can tell you that after using Highlight at SXSW (another people discovery tool for iPhone), Airtime feels like a much lower barrier to entry because while highlight pings your phone when someone with similar interests to you is nearby, you still have to find them, introduce yourself and in many cases interrupt them. I was not willing to do this, even at SXSW in most cases. It’s that ice breaking moment that’s the tough part. But with Airtime, both parties are already surfing around and ready to have a conversation. That makes a big difference.
Is this the tool to bring video chat to the masses? Even many of my friends aren’t comfortable with video chatting, let alone with people they don’t know. The same seems to be true for lots of folks over 40 as well. But for a generation of people who are growing up with massive amounts of data, a large social graph and a tendency to have interactions online, Airtime may be the next big thing in the people discovery space, which is going to be a huge business.