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Will Sean Parker's Airtime succeed where Chatroulette failed?
A new celebrity-backed chatting service promises to bring "serendipity" back to the web... by connecting strangers on video
 
Napster co-founders Shawn Fanning (left) and Sean Parker (right) discuss their latest social online start-up, "Airtime," on the Today show.
Napster co-founders Shawn Fanning (left) and Sean Parker (right) discuss their latest social online start-up, "Airtime," on the Today show.
Peter Kramer/NBC

This week, Napster co-founders Sean Parker and Shawn Fanning reunited to reveal their newest start-up, Airtime, which promises real-time one-on-one video chats between strangers, and the ability to watch YouTube videos with your new friends. The goal is to bring "serendipity back to the internet," the same way Aol chatrooms connected like-minded strangers in the '90s. And unlike the more contemporary and creepy Chatroulette, conversations with strangers on Airtime won't be anonymous. The service syncs with a user's Facebook account and encourages discovery through shared areas of interests. Parker and Fanning promise that the nudity problems that doomed Chatroulette won't be an issue, thanks to a one-strike-and-you're-out policy and technology that purportedly blurs out genitalia. "In layman's terms, Airtime is like Chatroulette without the penises," says Harrison Weber at The Next Web. Is that a successful formula? 

Yes. Airtime will humanize the web: The internet, particularly Facebook, "was starting to get a bit repetitive," says Josh Constine at TechCrunch. But Airtime brings intimacy back to the web thanks to its emphasis on shared interests. When two strangers start talking about a book, movie, or band they care about, "discussions turn to what makes you two similar, but different from the rest of the world." To put it simply, Airtime "makes it seem like you've known someone longer than you have." Expect big things.
"Face to face: How Airtime will re-humanize the internet"

Maybe not. Airtime has a lot to prove: A "parade of stars," including Snoop Dogg, Olivia Munn, and Ed Helms, helped Parker show off the service during a very public demonstration, says Ryan Kim at GigaOm. "But the proof will be in how many regular people show up." Sure, Parker and Fanning can put on a splashy presentation. But in order to succeed, Airtime "will need to evolve some more to make it clear why people [would] want to spend their time there." Some people don't even like to video chat with their friends. What makes strangers any better?
"Stars align behind Airtime video chat, but is it Skype or Color?"

Don't discount Parker and Fanning's past successes: Perhaps the best way to forecast Airtime's future is to look at the track records of the two founders, says Greg Sandoval at CNET. The shortlist of companies the two tech veterans have been involved with includes Facebook, Spotify, and Path. Airtime may or may not blossom into a billion-dollar company, but if history is any indication, it'll make its presence felt.
"Sean Parker's Airtime not ready for prime time"

 

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